For Karla Knight, the paranormal is normal


RIDGEFIELD, Connecticut – Artists in tune with the supernatural, paranormal and occult have at times been seen as eccentric visionaries, but the art world is increasingly receptive to their channels. An immensely popular retrospective the Swedish mystic Hilma af Klint, at the Guggenheim in New York three years ago, linked the first modernist abstractions to spiritualist sessions; last year the Whitney famous the transcendent symbolism of Agnes Pelton, who painted light portals and apparitions in desert landscapes.

Contemporary artist Karla Knight shares many of the interests of these artists, and some of their practices; she grew up in a family that held regular Oujia board sessions, with a father who published books on UFOs. post-war abstract expressionists who explored Jungian psychology. Knight’s first investigation of the museum, “Karla Knight: Navigator” to Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art in Ridgefield, Connecticut, hosted by Amy Smith-Stewart, presents us with indecipherable languages ​​of the artist’s invention, old weathered grain bags and ledger books featuring images of futuristic spaceships and mysterious orbs that hover in labyrinthine geometric abstractions.

In a recent phone call, Knight spoke about some of his worldly and otherworldly inspirations. Here are edited excerpts from that conversation.

You come from a family with strong interests in the supernatural and the interplanetary. Your grandfather was a transcendentalist who wrote about his experiences communicating with the deceased and held sessions for the family, and your father was also an author who published books on UFOs. How did they influence you?

Yes, I come from a family of authors on that side. My father wrote books, many for children, on science, history and astronomy as well as on poltergeists, ghosts and UFOs. He had books on psychic phenomena and mediums and the history of UFOs in his library, as well as classical texts. At Easter or Thanksgiving, we had sessions where we used the Ouija board. The paranormal was normal for us.

You’re also part of a family, so to speak, of artists known as mediums or mystics – for example, early 20th-century Swedish abstraction pioneer Hilma af Klint. When was the first time you encountered his work and how has it affected you?

The show was called “The Spiritual in Art” in 1987 in Chicago, and it just blew me away. I identify with af Klint a lot. I love that she doesn’t want her work seen for years to come – she felt ahead of her time and was aware of how long it would take for people to even be able to understand her work. His art touches me very deeply, and I think that is the case with most people who have seen him. Obviously, there is a thirst for this kind of mystical work. People want something more than what they can see or understand.

Although you have some affinities with these artist-mystics, it seems that your work process is different. When you walk into the studio, you don’t channel anything, do you?

I don’t think of myself as a healer or a medium, although I think part of what I do is channeled – I think any good artist, writer, or musician is a channeler. With the imaginary language that I invented, for example, I don’t know if that means something. It can be complete gibberish. I feel like a bridge between worlds – this has always been my earthly job. But what that really means, and what the other world is, I would never pretend to say.

Can you tell me more about how you invented this imaginary language?

It started to develop about 20 years ago when my son was learning to read and write. When you watch children enter the world of written languages, it is fascinating. They start to write their letters, then spoil them and make them their own. Watching my son do this, I thought, why can’t I invent my own language? I put some of my son’s writing in my journal, then I started to make up letters around it. I can’t hear the language in my head yet, but I dreamed about it. It has become a language of its own for me – I’m just going to sit there at night and write like it’s English.

However, in some of your works there are readable English word lists – fun, slang word pairs, such as “Orb Brain” and “Muddle Head”. Where do these come from?

Freelance book indexing has been my daily job for years. Having indexed hundreds of books, I tend to organize things in lists and columns. The words come from different places. I have found it in scientific books, like “Simple Sponge” or “Primal Slime”. If there’s a phrase I like, I’ll put it in it. It’s a way of having more information in the work, in a different way than with imaginary language.

Your latest works are inspired by another way of representing and organizing information: the “winter accounts” created by the indigenous peoples of the American plains. In these drawings on skin, paper or muslin, important tribal events are recorded with small pictograms. What attracted you to these objects?

Yes, the tapestries you see in “Navigator” are very much influenced by the Lakota Winter Counts, which I saw at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the exhibition “The Plains Indians: artists of the earth and the sky. “ Native Americans used them as calendars and historical documents. They would make one character per year, depicting a war or a death or a celestial event or a harvest, in some sort of spiral pattern. I love the way the information has been compiled. I guess it’s about indexing and how I like to order things.

You recently joined the list of Andrew Edlin Gallery, which focuses on artists who are self-taught or described as “outsider” for other reasons. You no longer have a traditional artistic training. What do you think of this new context for your art?

I went to art school, but consider myself an educated foreigner. I don’t really think about current trends in the art world, and I’ve always followed my own stubborn interests. “Outsider” can be a difficult term, but Andrew is certainly welcoming to work that isn’t easy to explain or understand. It shows artists who really don’t care what the world thinks and follow their vision.

Who are the artists that you really admire?

On the side of foreign artists, Melvin Road is probably my favorite because he too has his own secret language and he doesn’t explain it to anyone. Another favorite is Ionel Talpazan – he had a UFO experience as a child, and he spent the rest of his life making art about it. And “The Throne of the Third Heaven” by James Hampton this installation which he carried out for years in his garage without anyone knowing it, is simply incredible. But my favorite artist is Goya, because he scares me more than anyone. And I like Alfred Jensen’s diagrams, and anything by Jasper Johns. My interests are eclectic and are not based on current events, politics or trends. They are much more from another world than that.


Karla Knight: Navigator

Until May 22, Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art, Ridgefield, Connecticut,

About Mildred B.

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