25 March 2011

Artisan interviews Michelle Knowles

Artisan recently caught up with Michelle Knowles, one of the emerging artists featured in Critical Craftings: Unleashed 2011 to get the inside scoop on everything from her inspiration to favourite cafe...
Michelle Knowles, Dysplasian rites 2009, digital photograph.

Tell us about your background – how did you come to be a creative practitioner?

This is such a big question and I could answer it any number of ways, but I’ll try to stick to the facts and be concise! This may not be the story I want to tell, as I feel more inclined to start my own myth making. The reality isn’t so fantastic, but what it has led to certainly feels that way.
As a child of the seventies, growing up in the eighties, I was heavily influenced by the culture of the time. Sesame Street, The Muppets and Punky Brewster on the TV. The Neverending Story and ET at the movies. And of course, the music and Saturday morning Rage. Cyndi Lauper, Madonna and Michael Jackson. It would be remiss of me not to acknowledge that exposure to such cultural phenomenon has shaped my creative path.

My father is a school principal, so I spent my most formative years growing up in small towns across rural Queensland. In some places my friends lived on properties hours from town. I spent a lot of time alone, or with my little brother, inventing fantasy worlds and trying to bring them to life on paper or through making them with whatever was available to me. I had access to the preschool collage table throughout my whole childhood. There are entire worlds to be made from toilet rolls and dyed macaroni!

Michelle Knowles, My skull my pulpit (for those who swallow their deity) 2011,
cow skull, feathers, beads, crystals, and plastic crucifix.

I took art classes throughout my schooling, but had in mind that I’d like to be something more ‘respectable’ like a lawyer or an architect. Fortunately I didn’t receive the grades necessary to enter into such courses at university and thus many years of adventurous soul searching began. I spent my entire twenties asking “what do I want to do with my life?” I packed a lot into the decade that it took me to decide. I completed two degrees, a Bachelor of Arts in both Justice and Studies of Religion. I volunteered in a human rights organisation and became an activist. I worked various administrative positions and took courses in everything from Lifeline counseling to marriage celebrant training.

Finally, as life began to seem as though it was flittering past at an unfathomable rate of knots, I decided enough was enough, and that I was just going to take the plunge and do what I loved to do the most. That being, making art. And now here I am, at the other end of a Fine Arts degree, a practicing and exhibiting artist!

Michelle Knowles, Object for ascendance 2010,
deer antler, bone, sequins, feathers, googly eyes and tulle.

Where do you find your inspiration?

Inspiration is a funny thing. It is always manifesting itself in different ways. It’s elusive and sometimes downright treacherous.

Still, I search for inspiration every single day. I wish and wish for a divine bolt from the blue, but it never happens. Seeking inspiration is most commonly known as research. You’ve got to dig, dig, dig until some little morsel grabs you by the throat and pulls you deep into its slippery vortex. You’ve got to be willing to make that leap down the rabbit hole though…you know, in order to grasp onto inspiration’s tail.

So, to answer your question, I find inspiration in unusual and unexpected places (including the mundane). There is no ‘one place’, or even a group of many places. It is everywhere and nowhere. Kind of like God, if you will.

Michelle Knowles, Object for ascendance 2010,
deer antler, bone, sequins, gems, crystals and fabric.
Michelle Knowes, Object for ascendance 2010,
digital image printed on board.

 What other creative people do you admire?

There are so many. Jim Henson. Annette Messager. Frida Kahlo. Yayoi Kusama. Anais Nin. Diane Arbus. Mirka Mora. Kiki Smith. Yoko Ono. Marina Abramovic. Jesus. Buddha. That eerily tall street performer you see around sometimes with the marionette cat that plays the fiddle. Joni Mitchell. My peers. My mentors. My amazing friends and family. I feel like I’m giving an Oscars speech.

What’s next for your practice?

I’m currently attending a residency in Banff, in the Rocky Mountains in Canada [read more about Michelle's residency experiences on her blog]. Then I’m travelling for a bit. After that, who knows? Hopefully I’ll find some way of making a meager living out of my creative practice, but according to current statistics that’s fairly unlikely. Actually, I’d prefer not to think about the future too much. I’m just going to make my work, apply to exhibit the results and hope that it’s all interesting enough to sustain people’s curiosity for a long time to come.

I guess, what I’m really saying is that at this stage, my plans are sketchy.

Michelle Knowles, Object for ascendance 2010,
deer antler, bone, sequins, feathers, googly eyes and tulle.

I couldn’t live without…?

I couldn’t live without… Oh this is hard! I guess you’re not talking about the essentials. Um, I feel the need to be really corny here, so I’ll apologise in advance. Here goes:

Love, passion, friends and family, adventure, a challenge, my super, wonder-cat Venus (though I suppose one day I’ll have to, assuming I don’t go first), my freedom, books, words, black leggings, a hot glue gun, glitter, cheesecake, dark chocolate, feta cheese. Uh oh, when the list turns to food it’s time to stop!
Favourite café/restaurant?

In Brisbane? That’s a tough one. Actually, I’d much prefer to hang at home or go to a friends place for dinner, a BBQ, or a glass (or bottle!) of wine than a restaurant or café. But if I had to pick one I’d say that little French place up at the Barracks. French breads, pastries and wine whilst reclining on a chaise lounge – yeah, that’s the spot right there! Or that restaurant at Iceworks in Paddington is pretty good too – they have jugs of Sangria that get you rockin’. Ooh la la, Sangria!

Favourite weekend pastime?

This will probably reveal how truly ‘un-hip’ I am. But anyway, it varies. Eating and drinking on the deck with the best people in the world! Watching DVD’s with my partner BJ and the wonder cat. Attempting to control the garden which could accurately be described as a suburban jungle (there’s even a menagerie of wildlife in there!). Taking mini breaks to the coast or the mountains. And of course, taking in a few art shows.

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