Ways of Seeing Abstraction:
Karla Knight, Spaceship Note (The Fantastic Universe), 2020

Most people still understand abstraction as a concentration on form. It is viewed as an art movement which is used to express aesthetic ideas, orders, philosophical ideas or inner feelings, but which does not have much to do with everyday reality. However, especially in times marked by crises, relevance and urgency are also expected from art, and it is expected to make a statement on current social issues. Today, artistic commitment is not conveyed exclusively through clear visual messages and content, but increasingly through abstraction. For younger generations, in particular, non-representational art is the means of choice for addressing politics, religion, and social issues. Showcasing works from the Deutsche Bank Collection, the exhibition “Ways of Seeing Abstraction” at the PalaisPopulaire undertakes a thoroughly subjective survey of international abstraction from postwar modernism to the recent present, documenting the diversity and discursivity that lie behind the idea of non-objective, “pure” form. On the occasion of the exhibition, our series will show you works by artists who use abstraction idiosyncratically and define it in new ways.

Karla Knight, Spaceship Note (The Fantastic Universe), 2020
© Courtesy of Andrew Edlin Gallery, New York

Even when she was a child, the supernatural was omnipresent for Karla Knight. Her father wrote books on "extrasensory perception," investigating topics such as the occult and UFOs. But there is another family influence that has had an impact on the American artist's enigmatic images: she observed that her little son invented his own letters and words during his first attempts at writing. And so Karla Knight began to create a distinctive artistic cosmos, which in its consistency approaches "Outsider Art." She combines references to abstract modernism, Dadaists like Max Ernst, and the visionary designs of architect Buckminster Fuller with science fiction, pseudo-scientific diagrams, and imaginary scripts suggesting hieroglyphs from ancient Egypt.

Her preferred working material is wastepaper, which Knight uses to organize her visual vocabulary: hieroglyphics, symbols, and reduced forms are arranged into compositions whose logic ultimately remains inscrutable. They evoke floor plans, game boards, or computer circuit-boards, appearing both familiar and alien. "It’s not about deciphering the work or the language," says Knight about her paintings. "It’s about living with the unknown." And this is perhaps the best way to grasp her work intuitively—as a portal into an archaic-futuristic parallel universe.