An interview with our artist Antoon Knaap

2 April 2020

In this article, we interview artist Antoon Knaap from Maynooth, Ireland

Please describe your artwork style
I always say to people who ask; I make figurative art from the head and abstract art from the heart. I have no particular style, because I choose not to. I don't want to give myself boundaries and rules. For my abstract work I like to experiment, develop my work from within and surprise myself. My figurative work is more calculated and requires a narrative. This work needs to tell a story, otherwise it has no purpose in my opinion.

What's your background?
I studied Mathematics in Amsterdam and worked in the financial services industry for many years. My turning point came during the 2008 economic crisis and manifested itself in a huge dissatisfaction with the industry and my own contributions. I could no longer reconcile my needs and wants with my actual reality and became severely depressed. It was during this crisis I found solace in the arts, especially painting.

How long have you been an artist?
Probably always, but as the great Picasso said; "Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up". I feel lucky to have been reacquainted with my inner artist about 10 years ago.

Who or what are your biggest influences?
As a child growing up in Amsterdam I was obviously exposed to a wide variety of "the Dutch Masters", but also to the conceptual artists who took over the Amsterdam art scene in the late 60's and 70's. Especially I am provoked by Jan Dibbet's mathematics, Sol Lewitt's colours and Lawrence Weiner's language. Nowadays I receive flares of inspiration from a range of young artists who publish their journey on social media, like Elinor Shapiro's storyboard like paintings, Kevin Lowery's atmospheric seascapes and Karen Hickey's colourful portraits.

How have you developed your career?
I am self-taught and started taking myself serious about 10 years ago, while being depressed and unemployed. During the crisis we moved from a wet, cold and miserable Ireland to a sunny, warm, but also miserable Spain. I joined a local art group and started in all earnest. On our return to a wet and cold, yet less miserable Ireland, end of 2014, I realised that to continue with the arts I had to approach it more as a business, heck we all have to eat and bills to pay, don't we. So with a bit of planning, some training and workshops, I set up a website, increased my social media exposure, attend art fairs, advertise and physically sell my work from the railings of Merrion Square park in Dublin every Sunday, although unfortunately this is currently all postponed due to the COVID pandemic.

Which current art world trends are you following?
Nothing in particular. To be honest, my Instagram feed is probably my main source. I love being surprised by the variety and the immediacy. A lot of artist post work in progress and on the same day it’s finished.

Where do you do your work?
I am lucky to have a small studio at home. A sun room extension into our small garden, bringing in loads of light and colour.

What do you feel is the role of the artist in society?
Well, what is left of a society without art? Take away the paintings, books, sculptures, theatre, films. What’s left is a society of eat, work and sleep, a very miserable existence. How can we survive our current self-imposed isolation if we didn’t have books to read, paintings to look at, films to watch? For our sanity, we all need to have small segments of time to escape from reality.
I am both worried and optimistic about the current situation. I am worried that a lot of promising young artists will be forced towards alternative employment when this crisis subsides, while at the same time I am hopeful that this crisis underlines the importance of the arts for our mental survival and will spark new initiatives and possibilities for all artists willing to embrace them.

What techniques / mediums do you use?
I absolutely love acrylics, its versatility and durability make it a great medium to paint and its adhesive qualities makes it also great for collage, and mixed media work. Mostly I paint on canvas and on watercolour paper with a layer of gesso.

Which is more important to you, the subject of your painting, or the way it is executed?
Both are equally important, there is a purpose, a meaning when deciding the subject, while the execution shows the context and interpretation by the artist.

How do you feel when you are letting your emotions loose on the canvas?
When starting off I feel invigorated and energised. The process ultimately also levels me emotionally. Following a session, the overly negative, angry, or positive and elated feelings I started with, normally will have settled down to more average levels, which proves to me the powerful effect of the creative process on our mental health.

What project are you working on now?
Being forced to stay at home I have taken the opportunity to work on my online activities, organise my art inventories and related documentation. I reflect on what to do when this crisis is all over so I can jump from the (re)starting blocks. I also experiment with some techniques I intend to use later in the year for some larger historical and figurative pieces and I have started some online courses. I am definitely not taking this opportunity as a bonus holiday.

Any current or up-coming exhibitions?
Two things planned at the moment. When we are let loose again, I’ll be back on the railings in the centre of Dublin on the Sundays, trying to get back to a new normal. The second one planned is an art fair in November called “Art Source”. A yearly, 3-day, event held in Dublin, showcasing the best of artists in Ireland.

Where do you find your ideas for your work?
Ideas for my figurative pieces come from both historical and current events, while inspiration for my abstract work can come from anywhere, St Patricks day parade, or a pebble on the beach.

Is there an artwork you are most proud of? Why?
On our return from Spain, attempting to get refocused, I started a series of 16 portraits of individuals who were executed in Ireland following the 1916 Easter Rising. It took me 18 months to complete the work and made me learn a lot about contemporary Irish history and the strength of the Irish people. It also earned me a month long exhibition at Maynooth University during the 1916 Centenary year.

How do you know when a work is finished?
I normally consider a painting “finished” when the desire to start the next one tips the scale. I say quote-unquote finished, because often I put a piece down for a few days or weeks and return to it to make some changes after which I sign it. My signature means to me, it’s done, you can’t touch it anymore.

What is your most important artist tool? Is there something you can’t live without in your studio?
My hands guided by my brain on instruction of my heart are the most important tools. However, looking at equipment, I wouldn’t be able to work without my height adjustable table. I constantly move paintings from an easel to the table, providing for different points of view, different points of entry and different angles of light hitting the canvas.

Is there an element of art you enjoy working with most? Why?
Repetition of the non-repetitive. I love producing painting after painting, yet all different, all taking different bits of information from me as a person. I believe if you spend hours, days, sometimes weeks pushing paint around the canvas you leave traces of yourself, your emotions embedded in the work. I strongly believe, if someone likes the work and connects with the emotion, this creates a bond between the creator and the person. An invisible thread that, taking in all creators worldwide, reinforces and enhances our global social fabric.

Additional Information
I sincerely hope this crisis passes soon and all of us can continue with our lives relatively unscathed. I also hope that the community spirit we have seen will become part of our new culture, that small and local creators attract the success they deserve and our newly found heroes get the respect and rewards they have earned. Stay safe!

To see more of Antoon's work see:

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