Kevin Knopp believes his efforts while earning a master’s degree have made him a more insightful artist.
In August, Knopp completed a two-year master’s degree program through the Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier. The program included a combination of five 10-day, on-campus residencies followed by six-month semesters of self-designed studio practice.
“What every student at Vermont College does each semester is highly individualized, based on your topics of interest and your studio practice,” Knopp said. “Your work is discussed and you get feedback from the faculty on how they perceive the strengths and weaknesses of your work.”
Students are required to spend at least 20 hours per week in studio and six hours a week studying visual culture. Knopp, as with many of the students, also worked for a living. He tunes pianos when not painting, studying or performing music.
“I probably exceeded the time required by the program by at least 10 hours per week,” Knopp said. “I also read 12 to 15 texts per semester.”
He read about art and culture, social theory and music, poetry and novels. He read John Cage’s influential book of lectures and essays, Silence, and Walter Benjamin’s work on Charles Baudelaire and the modern era.
“It was quite an intellectual ride,” Knopp said.
A common thread through most of Knopp’s reading was postmodernism, a cultural perspective that impacted the arts and literature in the second half of the 20th century.
“Postmodernism started out as a critique of modernism, of the modern hegemony over the values of what was considered good art. Postmodernism attempted to wipe the slate clean, to show that there is no one, single lens through which we should view cultural expressions. It’s a very liberating way of looking at art,” Knopp said.
Prior to his study of postmodernism, Knopp said he did not really understand or appreciate contemporary art. He said that newfound understanding has impacted his own work.
“When I went to my first residency, I brought some of my paintings of Civil War sites. I was told that the paintings were beautiful, but that they failed to express the horror of what had occurred at those sites 150 years ago,” Knopp said. “My critiquer said the next two years would be the most fun that I’d have in my entire life, but they wouldn’t be if I continued to paint conventional landscapes.”
After returning home from Vermont during his first semester, Knopp worked with Jennifer Terpstra, an artist who teaches at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.
“She looked at my paintings and said they were basically concerned with color and surface. She suggested that I draw from life at least 30 percent of my studio time. I had not drawn from actual observation for many years,” Knopp said. “That was probably the single most important event in my studio life.”
Terpstra also suggested that Knopp explore gesture – how he uses his hands while painting. He also began to work with a more limited palette or color range.
Knopp noted that he was simultaneously drawing from a closer observation of his subject matter, while leaving behind any concern for representational painting.
Knopp said faculty members helped him develop a critical eye toward his own art. They encouraged him to focus on the details of his drawings, to look at objects through a magnifying glass or a telescope, to use his memory as a source of image making, then to consider how his work evokes feelings in the audience.
“This has been a very transformative experience,” Knopp said.
In his final semester, Knopp worked with Michael Minelli, a member of the Vermont College art faculty whose mixed media work, sculptures and drawings have been exhibited in New York, Los Angeles, Frankfurt, Zurich and Paris.
“We connected right away because we intuitively recognized the drummer in each other,” Knopp said, who has performed drums with area bands. “Minelli was an East Village drummer in the ’80s.”
Knopp said Minelli helped him understand how to present his work, whether to frame it or matte it, how to arrange it.
“I’m hoping to bring some of that acumen to my show in Amherst,” Knopp said, regarding the Oct. 1-24 exhibition of his work at the Tomorrow River Gallery in Amherst. The show is called “The Meter of Thought.”
“‘The Meter of Thought’ has to do with the topic of my process paper where I made connections, via exemplars in music, literature, the visual arts as to how images can unfold in time, much like a musical composition,” Knopp said.