“For me painting is more like a kind of intention. An intention to create an image in a limited, defined space”
AT: Where are you from and how/why did you start engaging with art?
PK: I’m from a medium sized city in Canada called Brantford. It’s near to the US border, and it used to be a major place for factories and manufacturing, but suffered a big economic downturn, like many places close by in the US. So when I was growing up there it was pretty bleak and dead. The entire downtown was boarded up shop fronts. It’s also been hit really hard by the opioid epidemic. But at the same time there is a beautiful river that runs through the city, and it’s nearly on the same latitude as Rome, 43 degrees North, so it has hot humid summers that are amazing. The people are hardcore, but real. I probably started engaging with art because of my mother. She was an elementary school teacher, but a big art lover, so she took me to a lot of museums. But she didn’t really have any connection to contemporary galleries, because they don’t really exist in that area. So most of the art I first engaged with was mid 20th century or earlier, all the way back to ancient art. I remember she had a copy of Janson’s History of Art tome, that I would read for hours at a time.
AT: When did it become serious?
PK: I don’t know if it ever did! I try very hard to keep things feeling fresh and experimental. I think artists have to remain amateurs in a sense. To keep your sense of wonder, and try things that you know will fail. But on the other hand I have a very professional team at Artuner behind me, so maybe when I started to work with that team, 2014?
AT: Are there any person who has been significant in your breakthrough as an artist?
PK: I would give important credit to two people. The first is Raphael Hefti, the Swiss artist who I met and became best friends with on my MFA course at Slade in London. We became a duo, and although we never collaborated on works, we shared a studio, pushed each other, and navigated a lot together. Partied a lot together, embraced life. The other person would be Eugenio ReRebaudengo, who I met maybe 7 years ago now, and represents my work. He is actually a year or two younger than me, so when we met we were both very green. But I somehow trusted him completely, and left the gallery I was with to work with him. Since then we have done so many incredible projects together, from Venice, to NYC, to London, to Guarene. He has been a huge champion of my work and placed it in collections I could have only dreamed of as a kid in rust-belt Canada. He has an insight and integrity that is extremely rare.
Slouching Towards Timelines (2020), Inkjet on canvas, 147×254 cm
AT: What is your first approach to the work? How would you describe your practice?
PK: My first approach to the work, whether it’s in painting, sculpture is to question the nature of the materials I’m working with. There’s no such thing as “raw” material anymore. Everything is processed to some extent. So I start there, thinking about what is the material reality behind the way the thing presents itself, which is usually just the way it has been designed commercially. I try to get behind that, undo it if necessary. And then I can use it as material. I spend most of my time working on my paintings. Sculptures are like a treat that come and go. But most days I’m focused on image making. I work with cheap flatbed scanners, to create paintings on canvas. It’s a hybrid process that uses both digital and analog materials. It involves a lot of time, and a lot of experimenting, and a lot of editing, revising, reworking. It’s a mixture of explosive and laborious at different stages. But I go into long periods of being intensely focused on the process. Sometimes not really leaving the work for days at time, other than to sleep a bit.
AT: What do you aim to reach with your work?
PK: With my work I am to reach a new place for painting. For me, painting is not just a medium. It has been many mediums in the past, from cave paintings, to fresco, to oil paint to acrylic. So for me painting is more like a kind of intention. An intention to create an image in a limited, defined space. So it’s important for me that I approach this intention with tools that are relevant to the time I live in, to the now. I want to explore how many of these timeless questions of painting, concerning space, perception, colour, etc. can be explored with contemporary mediums like the scanners that I use.
AT: What are your favourite tools and materials for working?
PK: Cheap flatbed scanners, huge inkjet printers, acetone, plastic sheets, canvas.
AT: What do you feel while you work? Do you usually think about the final outcome beforehand?
PK: I usually feel like a kind of trance, and I don’t think about the outcome beforehand. The first stages of my process generate chance and chaotic results, which then in the later stages become elements that I’m working with compositionally. There’s a tipping point from the chaos to the control where I start to think about the outcome. Probably in around the middle of the work.
Pau Kneale, Installation shot of “Recycling” first solo exhibition at Glenhyrst Art Gallery, 2020
AT: How do you understand that a work is finished?
PK: I’m looking for a certain feeling, which has mostly to do with visual balance. The perfect asymmetry. My phone camera roll is a million shots of defaced walls and garbage piles, and situations like that. Because I think you can only really start to have control of asymmetry by studying it relentlessly in its natural environment, which is chance, and the street. So I guess I have like a database of these types of images in my mind that influence when the composition feels “finished”. It’s a dance of densities and space, made of colour and shape.But also different in every work. I love nothing more than when a work surprises me by feeling finished before I was expecting it to.
AT: Where does the inspiration for the work come from?
PK: Inspiration in my work comes mostly from the previous work, the one that I just finished — for good or bad! The process of making the paintings is very hyper focused and there’s something addictive about it. I feel like there are so many images and compositions I have to unlock and realise, and not enough time. So I’m very compelled to see them by creating them. It’s like chasing the dragon. I’m also very inspired by the collision between art history and contemporary technology. There’s just so much to be explored, I feel every day like I can only scratch the surface of what’s possible.
AT: Are there any artists who influenced your works? Why?
PK: I really love Monet, because he’s dealing with many of the same questions I am. How to make an image that explores the effects of light, but using pigments. And also the impact of photography on this process. It comes through in his cropping. I also love Richter who is always changing it up, exploring materials. I love Twombly because he’s so emotional with so little. I love Joan Mitchell for her ecstatic colours, and Helen Frankenthaler for making such solid compositions from washes and spills.
AT: How important is the role of social media for you?
PK: It’s changed over time. I think maybe 10 years ago it felt like more of a creative space. Now it has a different type of attention directed towards it. Everything is oversaturated with content, so certain subtleties just become invisible. So I think of it more now as just a channel for communicating things I’m working on or presenting. Definitely during the pandemic it’s been a good way to share work with my audience who can’t travel. I just had a solo show open in Canada, and that’s obviously something that most of the art world can’t make it to right now. So we’ve been doing things like Instagram Live, having discussions. A few months back Ludovica Colacino who works for my gallery Artuner, created an AR filter that projected paintings of mine into people’s stories and live videos. It was absurd, but hilarious, and also very popular. I’m thinking a lot about this divide between a “primary” and “secondary” experience of the work — the work in the flesh vs. the work in reproduction. I’ve also made a recent series of 3D renderings that address this topic. They show actual paintings of mine in fabricated 3D interiors. They end up circulating in social media accounts that focus on these interior images, but without the acknowledgement that they are renderings. So the primary/secondary is reversed here. Because this piece here is actually the rendering itself, you are getting the primary experience, even though the interior image on Insta suggests the opposite. I’ve also got a 10 year long project on @twitter that’s basically an archive of titles. Way in excess of the number of works that I make — I think there are over 3000 now.
We Can’t Live in the Present Forever (2020), Inkjet on canvas, 198×147 cm
Rate Your Transaction (2021), Ink on canvas, 78×58 in
AT: As an artist, what is your point of view about the contemporary art system?
PK: I don’t know if I really see a system. It’s just a collection of people, and the relationships they have with each other, and the art itself. I think it’s always evolving. But personally I just try to keep the focus on relationships. Every great thing that’s happened to me has been the result of a relationship between me, the art, and another person who had their own desires and agendas. I think passion for the art has to come first.
AT: What do you find to be the most challenging or daunting thing about pursuing art? What is the most rewarding part of working as an artist?
PK: The most challenging part of pursuing art is the internal battle. You want to create so many things, and you want them to be really good. You want to be honest with yourself, and let your true vision guide you. Looking at what’s trendy can be very distracting. You have to stay true to your own vision, and that will end up being ‘of the moment’, because you exist in this time. The most rewarding part is making what I want to see. I first and foremost make the work for myself. It’s not an ego thing, it’s actually the opposite. I want to see a painting that satisfies me completely — that fulfills me. And this is a kind of responsibility and challenge to myself. I never completely achieve it — which slingshots me into making the next work. I think if I can get as close as possible to making what I wanted to see, then there’s a good chance that other people will appreciate it as well. We’re all experiencing this moment.
AT: What do you do besides art?
PK: I really love to cook — if I was banned from art I would probably become a chef. I also skateboard a lot (but not as hard as I used to), hang out with my wife and kids, read fiction, and listen to music. I used to have a pretty reckless lifestyle, but I’m much more focused now. I have my wife Nikky 100% to thank for that, she saved me!
AT: What are your goals and expectations for the future?
PK: I’m investing into the area that I grew up in. After so long living abroad I’m learning to appreciate what’s here. Which is almost nothing at the moment in terms of art, but I’m working on that. I just presented a solo show here, which people are not used to, and I’m in the middle of the construction process of a new studio building. I’ve been blown away by the enthusiasm people have for the work. Everyone loves art, but there are just different levels of exposure and knowledge. I want people to not feel intimidated. A few years ago I co-curated an exhibition in Gstaad for LUMA Foundation with Raphael Hefti, where weinvited a group of artists to come and create new works on site. I would love to do this model here in Brantford. There are so many incredible post-industrial sites, dead malls etc. I’m also looking forward to doing more big public sculptures, like the ones I made recently for Fondazione Sandretto ReRebaudengo in a UNESCO World Heritage site in Guarene. It’s a different process that gets me out of the studio, working with architects, engineers, urban planners, and construction companies. And of course a big goal is to do the Canadian Pavilion for Venice! I’m also working on a few book projects at the moment. An overview catalog, and a 3000 page NYC phonebook style archive of my Twitter titles archive.
Paul Kneale, Event Horizon (2017) | COMMAND-ALTERNATIVE-ESCAPE, Group show at La Biennale di Venezia 57°.
Paul Kneale (b. 1986) is a Canadian visual artist currently living and working in London, United Kingdom. Kneale is interested in how the world is constantly translated into a digital language which simplifies, trivialises and depersonalises content and the people it addresses. The artist explores the way in which digital facets of our existence can be manifested and reimagined in the flesh of the physical object.