Robert Knoke: Black Material

The German multifaceted artist launches his new illustrative portrait book, featuring the likes of Jamie Hince, Rick Owens, Bernhard Willhelm, Terence Koh, and Patti Smith

Bruce LaBruce

German-born artist Robert Knoke knew his professional destiny from an early age. The artist's father and grandfather were both creatively active, and Knoke quickly followed in their footsteps, developing his own unique brand of illustrative portraiture. Drawing might be Knoke's art medium of choice, but the artist - dividing his time between New York, Paris and New York - has worked with video, painting and photo collages.

But no matter the art form, it seems that Knoke has a longstanding relationship with portraits. Although Knoke isn't that keen on being pigeonholed; "I am not a portraitist, people are my subject", he said in an recent interview. Nevertheless, his portraits are very much why most people know him, which is helped by the fact that the people posing for him are famous musicians and fashion insiders. This point is adequately made in Knoke's latest book, 'Black Material'.

Dazed Digital: How did you select your subjects?
Robert Knoke:
It’s a very personal choice. It’s not so much about their look. It’s about what they are doing and if I can reflect myself in them. I also get introduced to a lot of people through my subjects. They are all kind of connected to each other, so the whole series becomes one body.
 
DD: Did they pose for you or did you draw from photographs?
Robert Knoke: I always meet each subject first to take a couple of quick photos. That is always the first step. I have to see how tall they are and what kind of architecture I can find in there appearance. After that I work alone. I don’t like to be watched when I draw and my work is not about a classic portrait session where your subject has to sit for you for several hours or even days. I don’t like to work like that and this is not what this work is about.
 
DD: How would you describe your art?

Robert Knoke: Although my theme is ‘Portraiture’, I don’t understand myself as a portraitist. My work is somewhere between drawing and painting. It’s about figure without being figurative in a narrative way. My work is more about abstraction.
 
DD: You work in Berlin, Paris and NYC - what are the artistic characteristics of each city?
Robert Knoke: Somehow they are all the same when it comes to my work. You even meet the same crowd. I only use each city to get my work done.
 
DD: You've worked across several art mediums - where are you most comfortable?
Robert Knoke: I always come back to drawing, even when I do a video project.
 
DD: How would you sum up the Zero Zero project?

Robert Knoke: I worked with the Australian designers of 3Deep on 240 pages. The publishers of 00 gave me the opportunity to work on a publication that is more than just another catalogue of my work. So, by showing three to five photos of details of each drawing, always spread over two pages, the focus goes more towards the drawing itself than the subjects. Each book comes with a t-shirt that is covered by a slipcase that you can put on your shelf like an object. It’s quite a luxury project.
 
DD: What's your favourite illustration?
Robert Knoke: That is hard to say. I think the less human my subjects turn out in my drawings, the better the work. As I said before, it’s not about a classic portrait that illustrates a personality. It’s about using the subject as a point of departure to go into abstractions and sensations.
 
DD: What's next for you?

Robert Knoke: After the work on the book and on the Six Scents Series 3 that just came out, I’m focusing now onto new work for my solo show in March 2011 in New York. I hope I’m able to push my work into new directions.
 
ROBERT KNOKE BLACK MATERIAL, published by 00 Projects and SIX SCENTS SERIES 3 (featuring exclusive artwork by Robert Knoke) can be purchased at selected concept and museum stores worldwide. In March 2011, he will be presented in New York by Envoy Enterprises.
 
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