What is portraiture? What is portraiture not?
Robert Knoke’s show This is Not recently wrapped at NP Contemporary Art Center in New York City. I first saw Robert’s work at the SCOPE art fair: a violent tangle of black lines seemingly scribbled on a white wall, with a life-size portrait of fashion designer Walter Van Beirendonck (looking like a 19th-century philosopher) peering out at the viewer from the corners of his eyes. I never forgot that image.
For years, Robert — the son and grandson of painters — has worked in Berlin and New York making drawings of high-profile personalities, using each subject’s physical architecture as a leaping-off point for his own experience of artistic immersion. Who has he drawn? Creatives from all fields: Marc Jacobs, The Kills, Patti Smith, Bret Easton Ellis, Lawrence Weiner, Bernhard Wilhelm, and Rick Owens to name a few. But in interviews Robert has emphasized that, for him, it’s not really about capturing the essence of a personality or even of recreating a likeness — it’s about the reduction of matter into lines and pigment, and the pursuit of abstraction. The final product is sculpted using everyday materials — markers, ballpoint and ink — which, in his hands, become entirely malleable; smudged, scrubbed-at and smoothed out until recognizable forms appear. The markings of this process are kept in the picture — sometimes blocking the subject’s features from sight. However, Knoke’s sense of form is so good that these pieces of evidence of his engagement with the work are a large part of what makes his work so distinctive and enjoyable.
Check out Robert’s fantastic answers to our interview after the jump. — Text by Shirin Borthwick. Editor: Peter Berwind Humphrey