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Sebastiaan Knot's abstract photographs deceive our spatial perception

Rotterdam-based visual artist Sebastiaan Knot orchestrates photographs to lend an illusion of architectural motifs in order to allow the audience to see the unseen

by Dilpreet BhullarPublished on : Jun 25, 2023

To encounter an artwork by Rotterdam-based visual artist Sebastiaan Knot is to experience deception and disorientation of what our eyes are trained to see. The piece of cardboard at once stands obliquely to cast a shadow on the wall and a collection of them forms a structure of an edifice. When rendered in a colourful pallet of contrasting colours this staged performance serves as a subject to the photographic work by Knot. The play and contrast of the colour with the use of primary material i.e., light in the works is often mistaken as a result of digital manipulation. The illumination of the photographs in an unprecedented manner brings attention to the works of the artists such as James Turrell, Cruz-Diez and László Moholy-Nagy. In another life, he was a graphic and web designer, the traces of which are still found in the Dutch artist’s career as a photographer. His current day fine art practice stemmed from his previous profession as a photographer for both commercial and commissioned projects. The ordinary architectural motifs in the studio of Knot are rendered a new life as he orchestrates the composition. Outside the frame of an ordinary urban milieu, the compositions by Knot are punctuated by geometrical shapes – their presence accentuated by the lights of a variety of colours. The work becomes a metaphor to cajole the viewer to see the unseen. The optical phenomena of lights and shadows and manipulation of the chromatic contrast become a tool to witness what is unassumed under the lens of novelty.

Colliding Colors N24316, 2018, Photography,Archival ink print | Sebastiaan Knot| STIRworld
Colliding Colors N24316, 2018, Photography, Archival ink print Image: Sebastiaan Knot

The tactile quality of the architectural structures is not an extension of the digital control but rather makes up for a limited-edition series, only to conjure a unique experience of viewership. The overlap of shadows and colour in the work offers an appearance that seems to emerge from an amalgamation of paintings, photography and digital tools. Knot in an interview with STIR, elaborates on this observation, if it is a conscious part of his artistic intention to bring the beauty of three together, “It is coincidental what happens with the way I work. I use the camera and lens to alter my perception. First, I place the camera and then slowly build the structure in front of it. The structure or materials have no representational value to me and I try to make it as abstract as possible. Most people at first have to look hard to understand what they are looking at. Indeed, most of them think it is painted or digital art. Not often do people see it as a photograph. The way I present the works also adds to that perception.”

Colliding Colors N47904, 2021, Photography, Archival ink print | Sebastiaan Knot| STIRworld
Colliding Colors N47904, 2021, Photography, Archival ink print Image: Sebastiaan Knot

The last group exhibition Vasarely Legacy by Knot was at Vasarely Foundation, the institution where once David Bowie lived and worked, was established in 1961 by the Hungarian-French artist Victor Vasarely. Known for Op Art, his black and white work Zebra is touted as a pioneer in its field. Talking about how the space of installation offers a context and speaks to the work on display, Knot draws a parallel between his work and Vasarely Foundation’s architectural heritage value, “I think the space is important to the works. The Vasarely exhibition for example was in the old burned-down atelier of Vasarely in France.” The old concrete walls decorated with graffiti and burn marks gave an edge to the overall appeal of the work – laced with beautification added an animated value to the life of an artwork. “It was a very unusual place for an exhibition but it worked smoothly. White walls are not always the best for colourful art,” confesses Knot.

Portrait of Sebastiaan Knot | Sebastiaan Knot | STIRworld
Portrait of Sebastiaan Knot Image: Courtesy of Sebastiaan Knot

The geometrical patterns engaged in the architectural motifs of windows and doors play with the perception of the built environment. Knot succinctly admits that even if a lot of people see doors or windows in his work. It is not a deliberate attempt, yet he does understand that association. He cites a few works that have been given impetus to this perception such as N24316 and N24588 have this feeling of a window or doorway. “N24316 is 240x180 cm and is hanging in a residence to look like a place you could step into and the client associated it with a window. Although to me it is not intentionally done, I also think the colours itself have great influence in perception,” adds Knot.

Colliding Colors N24588, 2018, Photography, Archival ink print | Sebastiaan Knot| STIRworld
Colliding Colors N24588, 2018, Photography, Archival ink print Image: Sebastiaan Knot

When the art practice is overflowing with colour and light it is bound to carry a sense of satisfaction. For Knot, it is charged with a personal as well as an emotional quotient – how and what that does to a viewer. “If somebody feels better or is amazed by it then I am extremely joyous. I just hope people take the time to enjoy the play of colour and light and that it gives them something in return.” Knot quotes Carlos Cruz-Diez, a Venezuelan postwar-era artist, ‘One of the fundamental functions of art is to amaze,’ to the effect of drawing an experiential importance to his abstract photographs.

Colliding Colors N49581, 2021, Photography, Archival ink print | Sebastiaan Knot| STIRworld
Colliding Colors N49581, 2021, Photography, Archival ink print Image: Sebastiaan Knot
Colliding Colors, Project 2.0 Gallery Video: Sebastiaan Knot

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