Some people are born knowing what extraordinary gift they have to share with the world. Some search and search, often in vain, to find themselves. San Diego born painter, Don Knapp, has always known he was meant to be an artist.
At the age of five, Don would create his masterpieces, load them in his wagon (his mobile gallery) and “share” them with his neighbors. At one point the San Diego County Sheriffs Department caught wind of the little entrepreneur’s actions and sought him out. But, instead of telling him to cease and desist, they also became avid “collectors” of his work.
This award-winning artist now boasts collectors worldwide!!
Don has an unconventional way of looking at the world around him. He considers himself a Colorist – he uses bright, bold colors to evoke emotion and a strong reaction from those who see his work. He credits his artistic style, in part, to his fascination with Eastern mysticism and to the art and culture of the Southwestern Native American tribes. He turns an ordinary city block into a bold, colorful pueblo village. A face becomes a tribal mask filled with human grace and emotion. And, in the midst of what seems to be random blobs of paint, magically a tiger’s face appears.
He creates from his soul, letting the piece evolve and reveal itself. He never tries to push someone to buy a piece of his art. It has to be a “relationship” …like a good marriage. Someone who truly loves the piece “will see so many different things in it as they live with it…as if it is speaking to them.”
Don, who is self-taught, started out doing abstracts in oils. Because he was not technically trained he felt more free creating abstracts with the open design and shape they allowed him. However, using unconventional techniques, like his fingers instead of a paintbrush at times, resulted in toxins in the oil paints being absorbed and eventually damaging his liver. He thought he would have to quit painting!
Then he discovered acrylics, which were fairly new at the time. He was determined to make the acrylics do what he wanted them to do. This took a great deal of experimenting, mixing colors and additives to increase dry time till he could use them in much the same way he did oils. He could also dilute them to a watercolor consistency. In addition, he found acrylics themselves have a unique look unlike either watercolor or oils. But he doesn’t stop with just acrylics. Being a mixed media artist, he combines acrylics, ink, pencil and more. In addition to traditional tools (brushes and palette knives) he utilizes his fingers, sandpaper, plastic bags, rollers…anything that will blend, spread, texture or smudge his paint is a potential tool. He creates such unusual pieces that people who study his work often say, in awe, “Wow!! How did you do that?!”
Knowing he wasn’t cut out for college, at 18 Don set out on his own, with his family’s blessing and support. He hit the Art Show Circuit, living a gypsy lifestyle, traveling all over the country. His experiences and interactions with other artists stimulated him artistically. He also met his future wife, Jennie, at one of those shows and they began traveling the circuit together.
He and his wife joined Spanish Village some 30 years ago. However, his relationship with the Village goes back nearly 65 years where, as a small child, Don spent many happy days with his grandmother Emma Schultz. An accomplished, self-taught artist herself, she was one of the original group of founding artists. Following the 1935 California Exposition, they went to the City with the concept of making Spanish Village a community of working artists’ studios. Emma also served on the original Board of Directors as Secretary.
When I asked Don how he feels about Spanish Village, he said, “I would do anything for Spanish Village…the Village saved my life.” He was referring to a very dark time in his life. His wife, Jennie, had become very ill. From that point, Don spent his days away from the Village, caring for Jennie, cutting mattes for other artists so he could make ends meet.
Shortly before Jennie passed, he received a phone call from the Village president, offering him Studio 3…the studio he had always wanted! “After Jennie died, having that studio gave me a reason to get out of bed every morning, a place to go and the opportunity to interact with other artists. Spanish Village is my second home, a place I love to be. And it is filled with fond memories of times spent with my wife and my grandmother. I would literally fight to the death to keep the Village alive.”
I personally, have been a member of Spanish Village for 13 years. In my opinion, Don is the heart and soul of the Village. And I know I am not alone in my thinking!
Thanks for Listening!!
Don’s work can be seen 7 days a week from 11am-4pm in Studio 3 of Spanish Village Art Center. You can meet and talk to the artist Wednesday-Saturday.