Recently, I was able to chat with the Israeli street artist Know Hope over instant messaging. What follows are highlights from our conversations. I'm truly excited to share this interview with you; Know Hope is a street artist I admire greatly. Not just for his amazing paste ups and rad 3-d lantern pieces but for his no-holds barred earnest and heart felt messages. His solo show the Insecurities of Time, opens tomorrow at Ad Hoc in Brooklyn.
M: Hey! How are you?
KH: Doing good, how you been?
M: Awesome. Where are you right now? Are you in Tel Aviv?
KH: I'm at home in Tel Aviv, yeah.
M: So I first noticed your work a few years ago...I'm not sure where I first saw it. But it's so different than most street art.
KH: Thank you. I think...haha!
M: When did you start putting stuff out?
KH: I think it was right about when i moved to Tel Aviv...so like 4 years ago?
M: What was your work like in the beginning?
KH: Very text based. I used to write much more than I used to draw, so naturally that's what felt more relevant to me at the time. It usually consisted of a short piece of very associative writing and a small image paired to it.
M: Was it poetry you would put out, or free form writing?
KH: I don't know, it was just stuff from my note/sketchbook..I guess maybe a mixture of both..the term poetry is a bit ambiguous and problematic for me..the same way with the term art.
M: Yeah...it's really a personal take. Talk to me about the term art. What do you mean?
KH: It's funny, because the term is used in such an objective way, when the essence of the thing is to document the subjective. I think art serves so many various functions.
M: What do you look for in art that you like? For me...I need to be moved, I need to feel and think.
KH: I think accessibility, to know that the person was present when making it. Its very layered, the thought of trying to figure out what it is I need in art, because in a way, I am trying to make what I need. Like, I know which artists I like, and I know if something has an impact on me. But the function and aesthetics of art in my mind is constantly changing and developing as time/life goes by.
M: Who are some of those artists?
KH: I've always loved Raymond Pettibon, I think he was one of the first artists I really liked. Shel Silverstein had an immense impact on me, and I only realized that about 2 years ago! Chris Johanson, Espo, Armsrock, recently I'm really getting into the lyricism of Richard Coleman's work. Yoko Ono and music mainly. And my surroundings, as corny as that may sound.
M: What it is it about Shel Silverstein? I can totally see that reference in your work.
KH: Yeah, about 2 years ago I revisited The Giving Tree and realized how much that influenced my outlook and my art specifically then I thought about all of his books that I had, like The Missing Piece series and was blown away. Children's books are one of the most important mediums that exist if they're done properly, I think.
M: When did it occur to you...that he was a big influence?
KH: Hmmm, after I bought the book, and basically I remembered every little part that composed the book. Whether it be certain details of the drawings, the wording of the text...this had been at least 10 years since I had seen it last. The next week I got a tattoo.
M: Did that open up a lot more inspiration for you? Oh? What was it?
KH: Definitely. It was the last image, the boy as an old man sitting on the tree stump. It was crazy, because all of these images I had been using and still am, were all there in some form or shape; the tree stumps, the complexities of giving, taking, feeling content.
M: So when you had this realization...did you start to move in a different direction? Did your work solidify?
KH: I don't know if [it moved] in a different direction. When I found out I didn't feel like I was ripping it off, but had subconsciously taken what I had from the book and it rose to the surface years later. That's when I realized how a vocabulary is made, a visual vocabulary, in this case. So yeah, I think it did solidify my work and general outlook and now I'm still trying.
M: It's interesting...because what I think about Shel Silverstein's work is that he had such a gentle way of delivering very strong messages, which I see very clearly in your work. Which brings me to your character, the main dude that appears in most of your work.
M: He seems so earnest and kind of heart broken. Would you say he is?
KH: I don't know if [he's] specifically those things. At least not all the time..I think it varies depending on the situation he's in. He's more of this visual manifestation, a culmination of some sort...an attempt to create an icon, an icon for a feeling. Or for feelings in general. He's more of an observer and lately he's become a bit more active, in reacting to his surroundings, and things that are happening to him and around him.
M: So last time we talked...we were talking about your character who lives in most of your work.
M: You talked about him being a puppet for complexity of giving, taking, feeling content...can you talk a little bit about the complexity of giving and taking specifically.
KH: I think that actions and gestures are often pushed into sorts of categories, given names, which can be black and white sometimes. One is either a giver or a taker, knowledgeable or ignorant etc. etc...though I feel that circumstances can create situations that are more complex, more textured or layered. We are always changing roles, depending on the motions of where we are. This of course brings us to the gray ares, which I think are the most common and although seen as an ambiguous context, are the most accurate. That is what I am interested in exploring or documenting.
M: Do you think he represents the ambiguity in life? That gray area between giving and receiving?
KH: Based on that sort of mindset is how a certain iconography is starting to develop [for me], through the amputated arms, the placement of the hearts. These things don't have a definitive meaning, but [rather] depend on the piece and the situation composed in the piece. I'm not sure if its the gray area between giving and taking as much as it is the idea of an area like that existing. In a way, I'm finding that [to be] the most common of areas...being in that gray area. I think that knowing fully where you are, is such an absolute condition, which is rarely achieved, if ever. We can know where we are now, and speak of the contemplations, discoveries, conclusions of those moments. But time is a tricky thing. Once you figure what is going on at a given time, it becomes the past, automatically. Throwing you into a state of re-adjustment, re-calculation. The same works with conclusions based on hind sight recollections from the past. What worked yesterday, isn't relevant today. So we're constantly in between, re-adjusting. Coming to terms and adapting. There is so much to be said about the games of time, but I can get rather scattered if not speaking about something specific. Basically the only place we are surely as present and precise would be now. That gray area.
KH: The lanterns? That would be about a year and a half ago, but actually full on 3-d in the last year or so...I've always been fascinated by the very present, ephemeral aspect of everything. It is one of my main themes that I deal with. So with the lanterns it was kind of like 'how can I make the piece convey temporarily, not only speak about temporarily?' Physically, the pieces were temporary, as they were only complete for a specific amount of time. Once I realized how I imagined the viewers experience to be; this whole new aspect really changed into something else, I got really excited.
M: What is street art like in Tel Aviv?
KH: It's definitely growing, especially when you think about what there was a few years ago.
M: Is it easy for you to put pieces out?
KH: I think that for such a small place, there's some really great stuff coming out of here. Yeah, its pretty easy to do street stuff here. Especially with the installation/lantern pieces.
M: Your pieces are pretty delicate...do they stay up long, or do people grab them.
KH: I don't really know, because I never stick around to see what happens. I put 'em out, and walk away. But I know that they are taken all the time. I've seen pictures of 'em in peoples living rooms...when I was looking for a new apartment, I walked into one and there was a piece of mine hanging on the wall.
M: Ha! Did they know it was you?
KH: It was funny. Nope.
M: Did you tell them?
KH: No way!
M: Hahaha, that is awesome.
KH: I thought it was kinda funny...I wonder what they would've said.
M: They probably would have given you the room!
an interesting issue I'm
very glad to see that people like it enough to want it, and I'm happy
to give these sort of things away, especially because I don't get
attached to anything I make. It's better that things don't last
forever. The only thing that i find problematic is when people start
to get borderline greedy about it, taking pieces off the wall right
after I put them up, following my route and taking each and every piece
out there. These are things that have happened. In that case, I'm glad
that they like it enough, but its out there for everybody. But these
are things that can't be controlled, the natural dynamics of
putting stuff out on the street. Once it's out there, it's far from
your's. That's what I like about it too. Exorcise this stuff and let it
be seen, then seen no more. Know what I mean? Plus, I wouldn't want
everything that I've ever made to still be out there. [It] would haunt
me in a way.
KH: Really? That's something I get constantly. People think [the show] was very pessimistic or that I have this really grim outlook on life. I don't really see it as that: devstation, maybe desperation...urgency might be more accurate.
M: Yes, after I typed devastation I wanted to say that is not a negative perspective. But the trees...the ones that were cut...the fires, the people crying.
KH: Yeah, I get what you mean.
M: But urgency seems apt...where was that coming from?
KH: I wouldnt say that it was necessarily mine, though its inevitable for it not be, because it comes from me. But I see these times as being dramatic times, though I find this certain beauty in the term 'dramatic times'. It's real, it's happening. Even when things aren't happening to you, it is impossible to separate yourself from these incidents. I'm not necessarily speaking on the direct political aspect, but on a more basic, human level.
M: Right, for sure. How was it having your first solo show?
KH: It was cool. Brian and Cherri from Anno are really great people, and helped it be a very special experience. This show kind of got my head a bit more aired out and eventually more focused, on what it is I want to do, and how I want to do it. It might have been the timing or where I was in my head before and at the time of the show, but I think it got me thinking about what it is I'm doing. It gave me some sort of clarity, I think that's what I mean by aired out.
M: What did you realize? What was the clarity?
KH: Basically how much more there is I want to do and explore, conceptually and technically. I feel that after a long time dealing with a certain vocabulary and character etc, topics and concepts, only now I'm starting to understand with myself what it is I'm talking about. And therefore how much more I have to [go to] communicate those things. But I think I'm getting there, at least in my head.
M:When is your show at Ad Hoc?
KH: It's opening date is January 16th. The Insecurities of Time. I tried to transfer the concept/title of the show almost literally. It deals a lot with the implications of time and how it changes. Most of the pieces are made up of groups of characters, mainly divided into groups of experienced and non-experienced characters with the amateur ones, feeling disatisfied with their first encounters with the 'downsides' of how time works. Whereas the ones who have actually felt the implications of time are basically comforting and directing them. Experienced and non-experienced characters.
KH: I think that the experience mainly comes into manifestation in the
smaller details, such as the placement of the heart, the amputated arms and
which of those things the character has in all the different specific
frames/pieces. They're usually composed of the communication between
those two roles. Ummm, I don't know if it's difficult (the translation to indoors) [or] it's just a different mindset outside
your reacting to an existing reality, and becoming part of it. Whereas
inside your basically creating an environment out of nothing.
M: Do you move in two different mindsets? Or do you just pick up and go?
KH: It's weird, I was actually thinking about that earlier. I think that I do somewhat separate between the two. When I'm working on a show, that's where my head is. When I'm working on street stuff, I don't even think about indoor stuff. I think where the two meet is in the installation part. I think that its impossible to treat the indoor as if it were the street, because it isn't and bringing the outside in, is impossible. I try to treat each environment for what it is, and react to that. Whether it be a park-full of cut down trees or a blank white room.
M: Can you tell us a little about the work that will be in the Ad hoc show?
KH: I feel that this time around, the pieces actually hold as a series. Lots of happenings over the past few months have made me go through various thought-processes, and consolidated many things. So I feel that these pieces reflect that, at least in my head. Its funny, because lately I'm finding that 'conclusions and insights' that I reach with my character or in my work, I somehow only reach myself a few months later. Coincidentally I guess I'm not that separate from everything that's going on. Like, the process is far from pre-determined in that sense. There is one of the pieces in the show it's titled 'Let a souvenir be a souvenir'. Kind of like 'Yeah, that's where we were. It was good. But let the moment take its natural course, even if it means deteriorating and only existing as a memory. More are on the way...' [Kind of] like scars etc...I have a piece that is at the moment titled 'Common scars brought us together (a safe place)'. Which illustrates some sort of get-together composed of all the amputees in the series. They're supposed 'misfortunes' [which] brought them to a common place.
M: What is coming up for you in 2009?
KH: I have something happening here, in Tel Aviv. Possibly Rome. LA in June and some more stuff still hanging. But
there are some more projects that are in the works, that haven't taken
enough form and shape to say anything about yet. But I got my hopes up.
M: Right, because you know hope.
KH: Haha, that's what they say.
***Some images courtesy of Anno Domini. Thanks Cherri!***