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Since 2004, Los Angeles-based artist Knowledge Bennett has been working to fine-tune his artistic craft. It began as an explorative succession: collecting fine art in 2004; teaching himself photography and practicing studio and on-location fashion photos and portraiture from 2007-2009; studying fine art history and production processes, and practicing large-scale silk-screening in Brooklyn until 2010; acquiring a studio space in Asbury Park in 2011; showing his work at Gallery 212 in Wynwood during Art Basel in Miami Beach in 2012 for the first time; operating a gallery from within the Asbury Park’s studio space until 2013; moving to L.A. in 2014; showing his first solo exhibition show at Bruce Lurie Gallery shortly after his move.
Since then, we’ve gotten an up-close-and-personal look at Bennett’s work at art fairs here in New York like SCOPE, and recently at his solo exhibition “Orange Is The New Black,” which is on view at Joseph Gross Gallery through December 3. At the opening, we caught up with the artist to discuss his latest work, and his artwork appearing during Art Basel in Miami Beach at SCOPE with four galleries, and a solo show in Wynwood at Macaya Gallery.
WHITEWALL: How is this body of work reflective of where and how you grew up?
KNOWLEDGE BENNETT: “Orange Is The New Black” chronicles the plight of the black community. It acts as a conduit connecting past disenfranchisement and institutional racism with present. I was born in the ‘70s, and raised in the ‘80s and ‘90s, so the two works I can personally relate to most are Reagan Knew Everything (related to the crack cocaine epidemic) and Bait and Switch (related to Clinton’s mass incarceration). These two works depict the government’s involvement in flooding my community, and others like mine, with drugs and other negative resources to incriminate us, then punish us, in cruel and unusual ways.
WW: What was the starting point of “Orange Is The New Black,” or what specifically influenced you to create these pieces?
KB: I’m a student of history. It’s something that comes with my upbringing. Most of my work up until this point has been rooted in connecting things from the past with the present. It’s a story which I felt compelled to tell through the still image. The still image is unapologetic. No matter when, where, or how you look at it, it remains exactly what it was to begin with. It doesn’t ask for permission or waiver in the face of criticism. It is what it is, and will never be what it isn’t. I’m not a reactionary per se. Of course there are things going on in the world that could have prompted this body of work, but there’s always been things going on. Only those with “eyes to see” have been aware of this though.
WW: On your Instagram, you mentioned being inspired by two women who recently wore orange. Tell us a little more about that.
KB: A couple women artist friends of mine recently brought my attention to the color orange. It’s not a color that I’ve ever considered working with in such a bold way. One wore a beautiful orange dress during the opening of her exhibition, while the other completed a 50-day Instagram challenge incorporating the color orange into her life via fashion, design, photography, etc. So, I credit them with turning my attention to such a beautiful and powerful color. I feel incorporating this color into this body of work gave it what it needed to draw people all the way in.
WW: You’ve been known to depict many influential figures in the world, including Michael Jackson, Prince, Jean Michel-Basquiat. In many pieces, you combine influences and alter the images to include more than one figure in the work. Where did this style of yours begin and how do you choose your figures?
KB: I often use familiar faces to tell non-familiar stories. The marrying of the two charters is just a way to, as they say, “kill two birds with one stone.” Better yet, it’s just another way of making a comparison. All things in life are related to one degree or another. Some things are more related than others. So by combining the two entitles, I can convey the message that there’s nothing new under the sun, so we’ve been here before in one way or another.
WW: Tell us about the importance of art within your home as a father. What do you find important to teach your children about the world of today, and about the art world in specific?
KB: I have three daughters and a son. There was a time when my home was filled to the brim with works of art. I’ve since moved and have been too busy to decorate the way I want or should. I don’t have a television in my home, so the artwork would take the place of that. I find it a much better distraction—or better yet, therapy—than most of the nonsense coming through the tube.
WW: Will you be in Miami next week? Where can we see your art there?
KB: Yes. November 29–December 4 I’ll be showing at SCOPE with four galleries (Joseph Gross Gallery in New York City, Galerie Virginie Barrou Planquart in Paris, Macaya Gallery in Miami, and Struck Contemporary in Toronto). I’ll also be having a solo show over in Wynwood at Macaya Gallery, and the opening night is December 1 from 6-10 p.m.