Short-hand symbolism: In conversation with painter Sophie Lourdes Knight

There is a tension between representation and abstraction in Sophie Lourdes Knight’s paintings. The quotidian motifs that make up her visual language – flowers, a chair, a blanket, dogs – remain suggestive through her style of pared back painting, which focuses on form and color rather than detail. The recognizable shapes seem to convey a narrative scene, but the story continually eludes the viewer. Sophie’s compositions typically depict objects or subjects within an environment, however the relationship between the two is left resoundingly ambiguous. Working in a pared back color palette that amplifies the tension between the compositional elements, Sophie is interested in the idea of deconstructing a scene in order to realise it. By applying opaque layers of pigment and drawing media Sophie builds up a narrative through the materials of the work, all the while leaving the representational aspects loose and on the verge of becoming. Sophie gives her works titles that hint at descriptive readings but simultaneously open up space for interpretation, much like the works themselves.

Sophie is a graduate of the California College of the Arts. She co-curates an annual group exhibition which aims to showcase artists from the Oakland area. Alongside her painting she explores her interests in representation and abstraction in drawing, photography and sculpture.

AMM: Hi Sophie! Can you tell us a little about your style of painting and how this has evolved over time? What are some of the influences that have informed your work stylistically?

SK: Hi! My style has a tendency to change often. I think it has a lot to do with what mediums and materials I’m using. Recently I’ve been using acrylics and oil pastels exclusively which has helped me work through ideas faster and opened up new possibilities stylistically. I’m constantly looking at other painters’ work which inspires me to try out new techniques.

AMM: What are some of the recurring themes and ideas in your work?

SK: I have developed a pictorial language over time that ties certain works together though I’d say a main theme is the tension between subject and environment.

AMM: Your compositions are generally quite pared back, with an interplay between positive and negative ‘space’. Can you tell us more about this and what this interplay represents in your work?

SK: Through most of my work I’ve felt a push/pull between abstraction and representation, tending to skirt somewhere between the two which leaves things feeling expectant in either direction. My recent work sets up scenes which are often ultimately left un-occupied; recognizable but un-placeable in subject and form. Any human or animal figures tend to be short-hand or only implied by what other narrative objects are in the scene. I’m mostly interested in the tension this creates and the unsettled energy that can come from that way something is painted versus what is narratively depicted.

The Knot, 2018, 50″ x 72″

AMM: What roles do color, form and texture play in your art?

SK: They are all very important and essentially the main elements of each piece. I’ve recently been interplaying layers of paint in varying opacities and saturations, covering and re-covering sections to build a historical narrative of space and form that support the final image.

AMM: You’ve co-curated a few group shows in Oakland, California. What’s the art scene like and how has organizing exhibitions influenced your own work as an artist?

SK: My good friend Hannah Perrine Mode and I have created and co-curated an annual exhibition series called RELAY. We initially bonded over our mutual painting practices and talked about how we wanted to build connections with other Bay Area painters. At the beginning RELAY was going to be a painting show but we soon realized it was a great opportunity to work with artists of all disciplines we loved and knew of through social media or local shows but had never actually met. We’ve worked with many wonderful artists and friends as a result. Everyone has been so open to the project and generous with their time which kind of sums up Oakland and the Bay Area for me; it’s a really supportive community for artists of all career stages, we’re all excited to work together on projects big and small; to make something happen out of nothing.

AMM: What does a typical day in studio look like for you?

SK: It usually takes me a while to warm up so I tend to work on emails and other paper work in the morning then I hit my stride with physical works in the afternoon. I usually work on lots of pieces all at once, bouncing between them when I reach a block on something.

AMM: Do you have any daily rituals that feed you creatively?

SK: Not particularly but like I said earlier if I hit a block I’ll move on to another piece or go to my sketchbooks and work through ideas on paper. Looking at other artists work, especially non-painters, online or in books is also a good way for me to keep focused and hopefully will spark a new perspective on whatever I’m working through on canvas.

‘Mountians out of Mole Hills’, 2018, 66″ x 36″

AMM: In the past you were very interested in notions of deconstruction – of subject matter and the physical material of a work. Does this interest you still? How has this idea evolved in your work?

SK: It does but less literally. I think my recent work’s success has come from constantly constructing and deconstructing scenes and subjects over and over; each piece’s success only coming after a healthy dose of failure and insistent editing.

AMM: Please tell us a little about your interest in materiality. You often work on unprimed canvases and seem to favor materials for their intrinsic qualities.

SK: My earlier works in oil on unprimed canvas were specifically about how the materials affected each other. I liked how oil soiled the canvas and would age over time – it made each painting feel alive and less static especially as I was struggling to pin-point my subject matter; I knew how I wanted to paint more than I knew what to paint. I’m still very interested in texture and the physical composition of each painting, using acrylics sparsely or thickly with other drawing tools directly on canvas.

AMM: You give your works very specific but ambiguous titles. Are these clues as to the subject matter? How should viewers read your work?

SK: Often a title will reflect subject matter directly or it will be a reference to an overriding emotion in the work. I like ambiguous titles as they inflict less influence over how the works are interpreted. Sometimes a title that is very literal to me translates in an unexpected way to others which is always an interesting moment and one I welcome!

‘The Knives’, 2018, 16″ x 12″

AMM: In what ways does your art express your own emotional and psychological state of being?

SK: I think the way I paint is the biggest hint towards that and it’s something that has only just begun to come out. My recent pieces have a sort of anxious energy which I tend to feel while working. Painting can fuel a lot of anxiety, especially when things just aren’t clicking, and I think that emotion is reflected in how the materials are laid down and also in what is left in or out of a final piece. Working through a bad piece is a great way to build confidence.

AMM: Do you have any exciting projects coming up? What’s next for you?

SK: I’m very excited to be participating in a residency at the Golden Foundation in New York this coming March. I’ll be working on pieces for a solo show in Los Angeles when I’m there. Other than that I hope to work more in clay and with sculpture; all-in-all keep working as much as I can in the studio!

Find out more about the artist:

Interview by Layla Leiman for ArtMaze Magazine.

“Everything Counts” Installation, Zevitas Marcus Los Angeles, Nov 3 – Dec 22, 2018

“Everything Counts” Installation, Zevitas Marcus Los Angeles, Nov 3 – Dec 22, 2018

“Everything Counts” Installation, Zevitas Marcus Los Angeles, Nov 3 – Dec 22, 2018

“Everything Counts” Installation, Zevitas Marcus Los Angeles, Nov 3 – Dec 22, 2018

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