Summer Landscape interviews: Carla Knopp

The first time I saw a Carla Knopp piece was in the Ragsdale home from her Mounts series. The presence of the piece was totally contemporary, but the touch of her brush is from a far more impeccable sensibility within the history of painting. As I planned to curate Summer Landscape I kept her work in mind. As a gem of the Indianapolis art scene, she's been a part of its development as well as participating in exhibitions of national caliber such as Tenses of Landscape.

This past spring I made my way to her home and studio to submerge myself in Carla Knopp's world. She lives on a wooded lot in a relatively urban neighborhood, an oasis with large trees and a forest floor. In her studio she had her small Foodbox paintings lined up on narrow shelves. Made with a very limited palate, the delicacy of her touch makes me think of a pearl necklace painted by Rembrandt washed up on a beach in a Dutch maritime painting.

It was a delightful studio visit, touching on desires of the painting process, history of the Indianapolis art scene, and sharing in what the immersive experience of painting has to offer.



Where did you do your plein air painting?

In my home painting studio, which has a window view onto my urban forested yard.

Would you describe the process of distilling your observations into the painting?

I had planned to work from direct observation, but just couldn't stop myself from inventing the imagery as I painted it. I did immerse myself in the visual experience of my woods, both before and during the painting, but the actual imagery evolved from painted strokes and imagination. I've always been mesmerized by how light translates all the various layers of foliage in my woods. The undergrowth is quite dense and it feels like an inner space, with mysterious nooks and crannies that constantly mutate. Over the past several years, since my little one foot tall Black Locust trees have grown into a tall canopy, I regularly pop outside for a quick stroll and just look at the current scene out there. It's always different. It's endlessly complex. The morning light is really great, and I focused on that for this painting.

What's important to note about the large piece?

I let the frame influence the aesthetic considerations a bit. It is a crudely carved wood frame that once held something on blue velvet (scraps of velvet clung to the edges). This thrift store find has dogged me for over 20 years, and has escaped many organizational purges. I tried so hard to discard that thing. The legacy of this tacky frame, with hints of cheesy melodrama, does work its way into the imagery of this current painting, mostly as painting indulgences I would normally resist – bold green over red color scheme, drips left dripped, flourish-y brushwork. I'm curious about how disparate visual and cultural triggers function when combined together in one work.

I'm also fairly earnest in my alchemical pursuits, not interested in har-har art cleverness. In this painting, the drama show is threatening to overwhelm the more contemplative parts. Too har-har? Or maybe an interesting blend of both. I'm not sure. It will be interesting to see how it reads in another setting.

Abandoned Shade Garden

Does this painting speak to or from any of your other paintings?

For this proposal, I focused on reacting to the visual stimuli of my forest, along with the homage aside to the frame, but a narrative started forming as well: The Abandoned Shade Garden.

That is the strongest link with my other paintings, that a subjective theme emerged in spite of my intentions. And it became a personal contemplative rabbit hole. This almost always happens when I paint.

I have no interest in developing a recognizable style, or even identifying as an artist. I try to reject branding and anything that predetermines who I must be or how I should work. But I am starting to accept that I have an instinctual drive to explore personal existential ideas through the act of painting. I may have to let that be my thing.


We pause now