Interview: Artist Ineke Knudsen

Morgantown based artist and leader of The Bench artist collective, Ineke Knudsen, shares with Boss Babes WV about how she came to art and working with The Bench artists, a book by artist Judy Chicago that changed her perspective, and more…

BB: Where are you from? How did you get into creative work and what is your impetus for creating?

IK: My family moved to Morgantown from Pennsylvania when I was 3 years old, and we’ve lived near downtown Morgantown ever since. During my childhood I took art lessons, and since my mom went to art school, she taught me about art history from a young age. Despite my creative interests, however, I tried to be things other than an artist. In high school I was passionate about STEM. My first year at WVU, I was even a Chemistry major. But there was something about art that drew me in, and I knew I had to give myself a chance to pursue it. I’m still learning. As I still feel like I haven’t found my voice in my studio practice yet, I try to just let myself make a lot of work—not rules.

BB: Tell me about your work for The Bench and why it’s important to you. What do you hope people get out of your work?

IK: The Bench consists of some of the most hardworking, passionate artists I’ve ever met who have inspired me to push myself so much farther than I would have on my own. Our artist collective works to improve the face of young Morgantown artists. Not only have we run professional shows in Morgantown, but we held a group show in Brooklyn, New York. Our projects focus on building community and joint artistic growth. Our motto is: “Even if we have no idea what we’re doing, we do it anyway.” My hope is that our collective will leave a lasting impression on Morgantown arts. I want to inspire younger artists to become professionals, and to not let anyone tell them that their small-town roots will hold them back from kicking ass in the art world.

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BB: What's your favorite thing about being an artist in WV?

IK: My favorite thing about the art scene in Morgantown is the people. Between my fellow artists at The Bench; other art communities, like Morgantown Art Party, Arts Mon, and 123 Pleasant St; and the students and professors at WVU, I feel excited and hopeful about the future of the arts in Morgantown. I love their dedication and energy to Morgantown arts. It makes me proud to be part of the work.

BB: Does collaboration play a role in your work—whether with your community, artists or others?  How so, and how does this impact your work?

IK: I have a tendency to distance myself from collaboration in order to complete my work. But working closely with my artists’ collective has forced me to consider my practice as less individualistic and more communal. To me, being an artist is a whole-life discipline that extends beyond my studio. While working alone in my studio gives me time to self-reflect and explore my medium, the time I spend working with other artists is even more essential. My most rewarding experience of community collaboration was last semester while preparing for our joint exhibition with the Mountaineer Boys and Girls Club at Arts Mon. The Bench worked with elementary-age students to create installation art made from discarded items The Bench collected from basements, give-aways, and Goodwill. I loved our final installation because it reflected on each participant’s individuality while still looking cohesive. Being immersed in an artistic environment with so many bright and creative young minds was so inspiring. I want to continue pursuing positive collaboration like this in my future career.

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The Bench working with Mountaineer Boys & Girls Club.

BB: Artist Wanda Ewing, who curated and titled the original Les Femmes Folles (author Sally Deskins’ organization) exhibit, examined the perspective of femininity and race in her work, and spoke positively of feminism, saying “yes, it is still relevant” to have exhibits and forums for women in art; does feminism play a role in your work?

IK: Because my work is mainly personal, I haven’t yet incorporated any ideological or political themes in my work. But feminism in art history is having an increasing effect on how I think about myself in relation to my studio career. Judy Chicago’s book Institutional Time opened my eyes to the ways I unconsciously considered femininity and emotions as negative aspects of my art. Somehow during my academic career I had lost respect for female artists and thought my work needed to be like the paintings I admired from the male artists in museums. I am now fervently studying female artists with a strong sense of self and placement in the art world. Reading about artists like Janine Antoni, Dana Schutz, Nicole Eisenmann, and Marina Abramović encourages me to embrace my own artistic voice, especially if it is rooted in my identity.

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BB: Ewing’s advice to aspiring artists was “you’ve got to develop the skill of when to listen and when not to;” and “Leave. Gain perspective.”  What is your favorite advice you have received or given?

IK: My high-school science teacher was often a sounding board for my STEM vs painting dilemma. When I told him I’d chosen to be a painting major, he commented, “You are too smart to be a starving artist.” He meant to dissuade me, I’m sure, but instead, his opinion had the opposite effect. I realized I would face a lifetime of obtuse opinions from people who held a negative view of artistic intelligence, and I was faced with a choice: I could listen to these people, or I could move forward. I chose to move forward, because there is a loophole in what my teacher told me: I will be too smart to starve.

For more on Ineke and her art visit Instagram @inekeknudsenart.

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Sally Deskins is a writer, curator and artist based in Morgantown. Contact her at sallydeskins@yahoo.com.