Making a mark and loving that mark

Francesca Cozzone visits Devon McKnight

I met Devon at the beginning of summer 2014. We were introduced to each other a couple times before, but it was when we were both invited to a nice little gathering of artists, I got to know her better.  She is a collector, a curator, and without a doubt, a painter. She continuously moves through her work. Never forgetting about her past pieces and ideas, but always striving for a new direction.  It is her own never-ending story.

Devon’s studio is located at San Jose State University where she is finishing her third and final year in the Masters program.  It is a large enclosed room off to the side with a divider separating her studio in two spaces.  There were prints of blue, almost swatch like, all over one side of the room.  After completing them a year ago, she pulled them out to process through them again, possibly cut them up and pair them with new companions.  

You can see she is attracted to this very blue, appearing all over both rooms.  Small and large boxes of paints lay around her studio. As for the rest of her color palette, she takes a little more playful and productive, not blocking from the exploration of her work.  I pointed out some work with color you wouldn’t normally associate with her work.  I was excited to see the bright colors being introduced, but she explained it quite differently, “I really hate all those colors. I try to put up things I don’t like, to see what happens.”   She continued saying they were too magical. Devon finds comfort in everyday colors, colors she finds on her walk to school.  She gravitates to blue, yellow, green, to found surfaces and wood.

“It is bright without being loud.  It’s more my personality.”

These relationships she discovers on her walks have become a large part of her process. She has found ten different ways to get to her studio, and changes up her routine as frequently as possible. She brings these observations back to the studio to build new relationships and non relationships. Moving towards a more narrative approach, she is developing a story of ongoingness, a seamless connection between each piece.  The narrative is connected to her walks and has found ties to growing up in the South.  Originally from North Carolina, she recalls mostly learning from her parents and grandparents through the telling of stories over supper. Her newest source has been Rebecca Solnit’s writing.  McKnight enjoys how Solnit writes memoirs and connects them with historical and contemporary information.

With her solo thesis show in April, she is figuring out how to balance out all her interests.  McKnight came back to school to reconnect with her painting and was really interested in learning more about the Casualist movement.  These investigations of painting spawned more sculptural work and shed light on her curatorial background.  In her time off away from school she was curating shows in alternative spaces, going on site-specific residencies,Raygun in Australia, and participating in art conferences like Open Engagement in Portland and Conflux in New York City. Space has always been influential to her work, from working off the pipes and outlets to a previous owner’s yellow spots on the floor.  The work has gone from paintings to monumental pieces back to paintings.  Her balance is to keep working, to keep processing through the work.  Like other artists that deal with a sense of casualness, she is discovering “what is the difference between studio space and showing space and what showing means because people think it is full of intent, and a final thing, but nothing here feels so final.”

This would come full circle, now she is spearheading her group MFA show, the student run show usually located at Art Ark Gallery. This year’s graduates are taking a different direction and looking towards alternative spaces to have their show.  With galleries all over San Francisco closing or relocating due to rising rent costs, alternative spaces (bars, stores, pop-up galleries) are a current outlet for artists and curators. McKnight’s class has taken full advantage  and decided to work with multiple venues including South First Billiards,Pho 69 which is part of Phantom Galleries, San Jose City Hall, a projection screen on 1st street (run by San Jose Arts Commission and Zero1) and potentially the Zero1 Garage and Cafe Stritch.

“This fell…it was big but it fell and I liked how it fell.”

Her studio perfectly shows paintings. Paintings on paintings, paintings as sculptures, and paintings as installations.  As we combed through the tubes of paint, I casually asked if she identified as a painter or as an installation artist.

“Oh yes, everyone wants to say I was moving into spatial work. but I still see it as painting.  I never learned sculpture. This is basically form, color and composition, which can go with many art forms.”   


For more of Devon’s work visit devonmcknight.com.