Wednesday, August 7, 2013

An Interview with Edward Knippers

The Sorcerer's Veil Descending - oil on panel - 8' X 12' - 2009
Edward Knippers

"We define civilizations according to their creative output. When people look back at this generation, they will have a hard time finding Christ. So the best I can hope for is to be an exception. I want to be part of that crowd that you can't quite do away with. As Christians, we need to be involved in art because of civilizational concerns."
Edward Knippers

     Edward Knippers' faith shines in his paintings; and the boldness he exhibits may raise questions, and even concern to some, but it refuses to be ignored. He has been featured in numerous national magazines, including Life magazine and Christianity Today and his work is found in public and private collections including The Vatican Museum, Rome, Armand Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, and the Billy Graham Center, Wheaton, IL. I met Mr. Knippers several years ago and heard his, now famous, Spiritual Lessons Learned in the Studio. Every year since, I've shared some of his comments with students. Recently he allowed me to ask him a few questions.
     Your work is controversial, ranging from critical acclaim to physical attacks, even banned from some venues. When you began your career did you ever imagine this?

     No. When I started as an eleven-year-old, there was no category for controversial art. One simply continued in the traditions of making art as you knew them.

     At what point in your life did you realize you wanted to pursue painting and were there ever other options?

     I did my first oil painting at eleven years old and had been drawing before that. However, the Lord had much to say about what He wanted me to do. I had to surrender my art to His will and He gave it back to me as a calling. Therefore my identity is not found in my work, but in Christ my Lord. When this is the case, there are always other options as He might well call you to different things at different times of life. But also when this is the case, you can give the work all that you have as a serious artist knowing that God is in control of your life and that your work is for His Glory. You have a freedom that the world can never give.

     What was your experience in art school like?

     Difficult. I went to a small Christian college and arrived there with developed painting skills. (My first term I was placed in third year painting.) What I lacked was a fundamental understanding of drawing., especially from the figure. I worked mostly in still-life. I now know that the figure is the key to whatever the artist does, from abstraction to realism. Not having developed skills in drawing the figure put me behind where I thought I should be, even though I had much experience in other areas of art making. Especially in graduate school, I seemed to always be playing a game of catch-up.

     Regarding methodology: do you plan your compositions on paper first (journals, sketchbooks) or do you work from your minds-eye, alla prima?

     I work directly from my head without preliminary sketches. This, of course, is not the only way to work but it is what I find works for me.

     Painting from Scriptural references can provide a lifetime of subject matter. How do you select which stories you will paint?

     The major truths from Scripture are often presented clearly in narratives. These are brought to mind in prayer, in church, and as I consider the artistic possibilities of presenting them to the world of the viewer. I often revisit certain stories a number of times.

     Looking over your body of work, I see a progression of style. How would you say your palette has changed over the years, and what colors do you 'keep around'?

     Color is the key as color, light, and space are equal in a composition. Therefore, as someone has said, color is substance not surface. I work with a fairly limited range of colors trying to stay with the most light-fast colors possible.

     You are known as a Neo-Baroque painter. Who are your favorite Baroque painters?

     Caravaggio, Rubens, Velazquez, Tintoretto Rembrandt, not all strictly Baroque but important to me.

     Who have been your biggest influences?

     Titian, Michelangelo, Rouault, Matisse, the German Expressionist as well as some of the French Impressionist.

     I showed your work to my students this week, as part of a lecture on contemporary art, beginning with a comparison of a 12th century icon to your painting, Annunciation. Will you share how this painting came about?

     I have done a number of Annunciations, the most recent being one where Mary is found at her bath and the Angel comes presenting her with two lilies, one white for her purity, and one dark purple for her suffering. In all of these paintings I have tried to show the intersection of heaven and earth, which should in reality never be divided as we tend to do. I am now using a cubist metaphor in order to show the movement behind the veil that hides heaven from our ordinary vision. I have recently learned that this same breaking up of objects and space was used in the early icons for the same reason, therefore your comparison may be much deeper than you realized.

    What would be your advice to a High School student who says, “I think God is calling me to be an artist”?

     Follow the calling, the vocation, but never hold the work as your given right separate from the One who has called you.

You can view the work work of Edward Knippers at

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