As pubs and bars continue to reopen, we begin to notice that what we’ve really been missing in Manchester is not the booze, but the art! Luckily, we’ve managed to get our much-needed dose of art this month by interviewing local multi-media artist Jeffrey Knopf. Jeffrey uses a vast range of materials to create his figurative sculptures, from wood and clay to things he’s found in skips. Read on to find out more about Jeffrey’s unique inspirations, his time in Switzerland, and his daughter’s amazing answer to one of our questions!
Cotton On MCR: Please introduce yourself and your work to the Cotton On MCR readers.
Jeffrey Knopf: ‘Hi I am Jeffrey Knopf I’m a multi-media artist, currently interested in the construction of figurative objects and sculptures. I am also a full-time dad and student, currently engaging in a part-time MA in Contemporary Fine Art at Salford University.’
CO: You work with quite a range of mediums, from wood and mortar carving to clay, raffia, and woodcut prints. Do you have a favourite or do you enjoy having variety?
JK: ‘As an artist at this moment in time, I really do not want to limit myself to working in one medium. For around a decade, I solely focused on the cutting and printing of woodblocks, and even though I became very adept especially at cutting, I still did not feel fully satisfied. I learned a lot about the process during this time, and I found it all very meditative.’
‘But one day I woke up and decided I could not do this anymore; I felt hemmed in by the designing and production of woodblocks, I really could not face it, I still have about twenty woodblocks that are sat in a box waiting to be printed; I’m sure that when I’m ready, I will return to printing.’
‘For the last year doing my MA, I have been enjoying the creative freedom, it’s like a reset button has been pressed, and I’m exploring new possibilities every day, trying out and finding new materials to work with. I’m currently enjoying working with clay again after a break of 25 years, as well as working with and carving mortar.’
‘Quite a few of the materials I have been using recently have come out of skips. There are a lot of houses having renovations done around where I live, so there is a good resource to bring home and work with. At the end of the day I really do enjoy the variety, and the freedom of having no set idea of what I want to produce, it’s like a series of puzzles that constantly need solving.’
CO: When looking at your work, whatever the medium, there appears to be a recurring theme of masks and heads. Where do you find inspiration?
JK: ‘I find that inspiration for my work comes from many places’ books, magazines, eBay, and Instagram. Over many years, I have built up quite a collection of books that I use for visual referencing; I say ‘visual’, as being dyslexic, it’s always the pictures that first grab my attention and set my mind ticking. But honestly, I find inspiration in many places, I try to be as open-minded as possible.’
‘But if you really want to get to the heart of what really inspires me, here is a bit of a breakdown: Tribal masks and tribal art forms – not only from the African continent but also Oceania and the rest of the world; carnival masks – from Mexico and Europe; folk art and traditions; myths, legends, and lost civilisations; religion and ritual; grief and mortality. This has become a constant undercurrent in my work, I am still trying to get my head around the passing of my wife three years ago; it affected me in many ways, and permeates many areas of my everyday life and the art that I produce.’
‘I feel that grief and mortality are very pertinent questions to be asking at this moment in time. At the turn of the last century, death was something that was openly talked about, but over the years it has become a very taboo subject: no one wants to think about what could happen, even more so now; people are in fear of contracting Coronavirus and what it can do to them, which has thrown the world into total disarray, and no one has a real idea what to do, as the goalposts are being changed daily.’
CO: You’ve lived in Switzerland. Has that influenced your work, and how?
JK: ‘While I was living there, yes. The more I found out about Swiss folk customs and masking traditions, the more they started to appear in my woodcut prints. The themes went hand in hand with what I had been exploring in the UK. Living in Switzerland opened my eyes to a new way of thinking about art, as it is so much more appreciated in Continental Europe. I really miss my life and friends in Switzerland, and I try and visit at least once a year to catch up and recharge my batteries.’
CO: The clay heads you’ve been working on recently at Moss Studio & Store are looking great. Can you tell us some more about them?
JK: ‘I had wanted to get back to working with clay for many years, having got a degree in ceramics at the time of graduating I went in a totally different direction with my art practice. Over the past so many years I started to get this hankering to start working with clay again. This urge was finally realised when Moss Studio & Store in Altrincham opened. I was introduced to Oli the owner by a mutual friend, and he said if I wanted to go in and do some work, then I could. I cannot thank Oli enough for allowing me to do this, as it has helped me so much.’
‘As for the heads, they are roughly based on tribal ritual masks and scarification, there is no specific culture or civilization that they can be attributed to, they are a distillation of many things I have looked at over the years. At the same time, I would like them to be meditative pieces, just like Japanese Tea ceremony bowls; they are there to be viewed from all sides and pondered over, as well as felt. These heads are very tactile, they are small and often fit into the palm, or can be carried on the person as a talisman or ritual object.’
‘In many ways, the heads are a form of three-dimensional drawing, in which I am seeing how far I can push an idea without having any set plan. There really is something very magical and natural about working with clay and its plasticity, you can take a lump, do a few tweaks and suddenly something starts to take shape; it really is a very instant and rewarding medium to work with.’
CO: You post a lot of content from behind the scenes and document your work in progress on Instagram. Do you think Instagram is an important tool in the art community?
JK: ‘Yes, it is evident that during the lockdown, Instagram was the place to go, to be visually stimulated, and to view the world. It is a perfect platform for artists to present their work, either finished or in the formative stages; it’s a place where ideas can be shared, whereas websites tend to concentrate on the finished work. It’s also a great way to make connections with others around the world. I like how I can be working on something here in Altrincham, I then photograph it, post it to Instagram, and instantly the world is able to see it and comment on it.’
‘It has also become a place where members of the public, who may not normally buy art, get the chance to approach artists directly; this can be empowering for both sets of people. It is evident how successful this way of buying art has become, thanks to Matthew Burrows and the “Artists Support Pledge” which has helped out a lot of artists financially during the worldwide lockdown. The internet is enabling artists to exhibit and sell their work directly to the public without having to pay commission to galleries and agents.’
CO: What do you think of the Art scene in Manchester?
JK: ‘I know that it is vibrant and thriving, but I have never really been a part of it, due to life commitments and to now being a single parent; added to this I sometimes suffer from imposter syndrome, where I feel my art is not good enough. Doing the MA is a big part of me facing up to many things about my life and art practice, to hopefully make me feel less of an outsider working in my own vacuum. I would eventually love to exhibit some of my work in Manchester one day, as so far, the only one-man show I have had was in Switzerland.’
CO: Do you have any advice for other artists out there?
JK: ‘Keep true to yourself and always follow your dreams; don’t take no for an answer. The art world is not the easiest, it’s a giant maze of emotions, at times it can be horribly frustrating, but in the long run, it can be exceedingly fulfilling, especially when you have made something you are really proud of.’
CO: Now that we can visit art galleries and exhibitions again, what are you excited to go and see?
JK: ‘Some weeks before lockdown, I had booked tickets to go to Amsterdam on a cultural visit of a few galleries over there. I had a rough idea of which galleries I wanted to visit, one of the main ones being the CoBRa museum and gallery in Amstelveen. Hopefully, I will be able to make this visit in November. Apart from this trip, I really want to get to London at some point to visit the British Museum, as I always find it a place of great wonder, and more importantly, a place chock full of inspiration.’
CO: Outside of art, what are your hobbies and interests?
JK: ‘The occasional flying of kites, listening to lots of music, watching films and the cooking and eating of food.’
CO: Lastly, if you could live in any piece of artwork, what would it be and why?
JK: ‘This really has to be the hardest question to answer; I actually asked my eleven-year-old daughter this question, her reply was equally bizarre as she said: “how about living in the mouth of the man screaming, in the painting The Scream by Edvard Munch”. I asked her why she chose this, and she just looked at me and started laughing.’
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