Nick Knight, generalist, on a sculpture by Edward Griffith.
GB Why did you choose this?
NK I chose this for its refinement and brutality. Ed Griffith is a lovely young man. Physically he’s a very big, powerful man with very big hands, but what I like about him is that he’s very gentle. These forms are all made of leather. But they feel like they’re made of ebony. They’re really dense and incredibly heavy – much heavier than you’d expect them to be. They’re also very smooth, precise and beautiful. Ed has taken leather and compressed and compressed it, using his own physical strength to pull the presses and made what’s almost a new material, which he then makes into these incredible geometric shapes. So when you first hold them you think they must be made from some heavy wood, then you notice that there’s a slight elasticity in them, which is unexpected. I’m always very excited to discover something new and this feels like a new form. You don’t recognize the feeling of it in your hand. So it’s an example of finding something unexpected, it’s an example of beauty and delicateness, while it also looks powerful and heavy and tough. And the refinement of these hand-made objects is exquisite. I think they provide an interesting dialogue. Strength is often maligned and associated with brutality and intellectual ignorance. This is an example of using physical strength to produce something beautiful. It’s a celebration of us as a species, that we can use our physical power to create precise and delicate objects. And as I said, he’s a lovely man!
GB Does that play a role in the beauty of this work, the fact that you know him?
NK Yes, it does actually. It’s very hard to divorce the object from the artists. I’ve worked with Ed for a while and we’d been talking about geometry and my fascination with minerals. I collect large chunks of rocks. I like those when they’re brutal and they’ve just been cut from a rock face, so they have this fierceness. I don’t like them when they’ve been shaped by hand in any way. I almost chose one of those but that would take the humanity out of life – so Ed’s shapes represent more my vision of our intelligence and strength.
GB So you wouldn’t think that nature is a higher ideal of beauty?
NK I think that does us a disservice. Nature is an odd beast! There’s a lot of chance, a lot of mathematics, but no thought. We are the most incredible species in the way we’ve evolved.
GB For someone who works visually, it’s interesting that you’ve chosen something in which a large part of its beauty is the feeling of it in your hand.
NK Yes, as you say I work visually because that’s what I’ve fallen into in terms of what I’m good at. One doesn’t necessarily choose a career, it sort of forms around you. I wasn’t very good at writing or science. You go towards things you get praised for and that you can get a certain amount of feedback from. I have started doing a series of sculptures using 3D scanning of people I know and like – Lady Gaga, Naomi Campbell, Daphne Guinness, Kate Moss. Most of them haven’t been exhibited.
GB The aesthetic of your own sculptures is so different from Ed’s. I guess people might associate you more with something baroque-influenced like your melting flowers. You’ve chosen something incredibly simple.
NK I don’t think my work is either one thing or the other. I’m not typically minimalistic or simplistic or baroque. My work touches on all these things depending on what I’m working on. My interests are quite broad, so I’ll happily spend a day in the ceramics department at the Victoria and Albert Museum or I’ll go and watch the latest blockbuster movie from Hollywood. I tend to work a lot with other people. That’s part of the pleasure for me. Whether I’m collaborating with Kanye West or John Galliano, they’re all people I care for so I want to know and understand their world.
GB You’ve mentioned a broad range of creative people who are all outside the fine art world – and you never put your own work in a gallery context.
NK No. I’ve shied away from that because I believe that the forum of my work should be different. I like people to see my work on a billboard or the back of magazine. I don’t like the idea of people coming to see my work who already like it. I’m much more excited by the idea of it becoming part of an everyday vernacular, so people see it where they don’t expect to and it gets through to people who don’t expect me to talk to them. That’s the challenge for me – to get through to a lot more people.
GB Ed Griffith seems to be similar in that way. He’ll happily work on a Pixar movie or a fashion show.
NK Yes. He works right across the board. A while ago I was talking to somebody who was working on CGI for a film for Kanye West. I asked him what he’d call himself and he said, “I’m a generalist.” I think we all are now. I’m certainly not a photographer any more. It’s not a medium I use most of the time. I never particularly liked the idea of being defined by the medium I use. It seems to be putting the cart before the horse. I’m interested in expression and communication more than the medium.
GB Would you say that because you work so much in the fashion world, your view of what’s beautiful is influenced by fashion?
NK Yes I think all our views are. I think fashion is the most fundamental art form we have. It’s a way in which we all express ourselves – even the people who profess not to. So I find the people that work in fashion, like Rei Kawakubo or Gareth Pugh or Alexander McQueen to be exciting people with a very broad vision.
GB So does what you find beautiful evolve and change with fashion? You might not find Ed’s sculpture so beautiful a few years down the line?
NK Maybe. This is an idea of beauty that has stayed with me and intrigued me. Some things are very important for a while and aren’t so valid when you look back at them when your expectations have changed and you’ve moved on. There’s a global conversation that moves on. I don’t want to go back and have old conversations again. When people ask what my favourite photograph is, I say it’s the next one I’ll take.
GB What makes something worthy of the word Beauty to you?
NK It’s usually something that surprises me, something I haven’t seen or experienced before. It has to move me in some way, emotionally. I think beauty comes from discovering something that makes you reassess your own values in some way. I spent a week in Florence for the first time this year. Although the art is old, to be a centimetre away from those renaissance works and study the brush strokes or the gold leaf, felt so new. Finding these shapes that Ed made was a similar experience. It makes you feel more excited about life because it gives you more possibilities. Life feels larger because there’s so much more to find out.
GB Do you feel as though we’re at the beginning of a new era, creatively?
NK Absolutely. In the last ten or fifteen years things have changed so fundamentally and I get more and more thrilled by the things I see as I get older.
GB Do you think that beauty will be a part of whatever creative works come next? We’re at the tail end of a Modernist project where artists turned against beauty. Will people self-consciously try to make beautiful things in the future?
NK Yes. Beauty’s very subjective. It’s about how something makes one feel. But it’s hard to communicate with people if you don’t in some way find something that they want to look at. There are three stages to making an image or a communication: the first is to get people’s attention, the second is to shape or direct their thoughts, and the third and most important is to allow people to finish that thought for themselves and it to then become part of their lives. If you don’t do the first step you can’t get to the other two. Of course, some people are fascinated by things that are horrific, but that in no way negates the role of beauty.