Solange Knopf uses the most basic, direct, and intimate of media—drawing—to create work that is at once intricately detailed and immersive. Her artistic practice did not emerge until, after a series of traumatic events, she was hospitalized for severe depression in 1998, when she was in her forties. This embrace of art later in life is a familiar trajectory among self-taught artists, though Knopf’s entrée into the art world via Facebook is decidedly atypical. The emotional crisis left her with a need to, in her words, “express myself, to break out of everything that had been confining me and to finally, fully live my own story.” Art, she has said, “became the means by which to recapture my own identity,” and she has continued to draw obsessively since being discharged.
The majority of Knopf’s work consists of large sheets of paper filled with fanciful depictions of floating figures and faces, beasts, and vegetation. Eyes, circles, and snakes consistently reoccur, as do naturalistic motifs with a dark, almost nefarious undertone. Working in solitary silence and often at night, Knopf creates her deeply personal work without advance planning. For her, art making is a process of discovery, and she has described it as “a meditation where images appear to me one after the other.” She begins with an intuitive assortment of lines, forms, and colors and then, she says, “I stand back and I look and the first images come to me, [and] I register them on the paper . . . and all this I begin again as long as it flows . . . until the moment I can’t see anything more to add.” Her drawings are layered, heavily worked and reworked, evidence of the compulsive nature of her practice, as can be seen in the area around the white flower in her 2014 work Spirit Codex No. 14. In discussing its creation, Knopf recalls that after applying washes of acrylic paint and making marks with the paper in one orientation, she then turned it so that other images—leaves, feathers, a dragon, and a face—appeared. This method of rotating the paper and the repeated search for new forms evoke the automatic techniques practiced by the Surrealists, ways of producing work in which the artist suppresses conscious control and allows the unconscious mind to take over.