July Artist Spotlight: Urban Artist Katrina Knutson

Hey Katrina, thanks so much for taking a break during your busy summer with ArtsWork to answer a few questions. Can you tell us about your art form? How about your background?

I am an urban artist whose work is rooted in graffiti, figure drawing and urban landscapes, I spent the 90s as an active graffiti writer living, visiting and painting on the streets across North America.

Do you remember when you first became interested in the arts? How did it happen? Did you have any big influences?

I was interested in drawing and painting since I was a little kid, I always loved colors and patterns and paintings of people, animals and cities.

"Texas." Katrina Knutson. 2013. Aerosol on salvaged wood. 

"Texas." Katrina Knutson. 2013. Aerosol on salvaged wood. 

Jacob Lawrence and Georgia O’Keefe cityscapes were some of my early favorites. Frida Kahlo's self-portraits blew my mind! Diego Rivera's murals of working class people interacting with the inner working of cities and factories are very inspiring. I was also incredibly influenced by the pioneers of mid-west graffiti: Emer, Ewok, Nyms, Dues, Eskimo (she is west coast, but spent time and painted a lot in Minneapolis one year!) Crest, Evail and Vent 26. New York writers Lady Pink, Claw, Diva, Cope, Cost and Revs were also very influential. And I loved watching Bob Ross paint those landscapes on PBS.

What’s it like to be a working artist in Minnesota versus the other places you’ve lived (Mexico City, Toronto)?

Minneapolis and St. Paul really do have a deep appreciation for the arts; we have a vibrant community that is supported in a tangible way. You can see the murals on our streets and the art in independent galleries around the cities. Mia is also making bold steps to make museums more accessible to all residents. Many of my peers in New York and San Francisco envy the investment we have in the teaching arts. I do fear that if we don't take a stand and continue our commitment in the current political climate, this could slip away.

What are your goals for your programs? What do you hope participants get out of your teaching?

I want to build confidence and a feeling of investment in our neighborhoods and walls, the space that surrounds us. Painting a mural on a wall can transform the feeling of a city block and the whole neighborhood. I want to strengthen creativity, commitment to community, and a healthy work ethic.

Katrina doing aerosol art.

Katrina doing aerosol art.

How do you think mainstream culture sees aerosol or graffiti arts? Do you think it’s starting to become a more accepted art form?

I think it has become more accepted, and also more marketed and marketable. It is used to sell shoes and fast food, and yet it is still criminalized. It is a young art form that has evolved quickly. It is important to remember to teach and speak, on the origins.

You’re working with COMPAS’ youth employment program ArtsWork again this summer after doing it last year as well. How is it going? What do you see as the biggest benefit of the program for the youth? What are some challenges you have to deal with?

I am working with an amazing group of young artists this year! I believe I'm helping instill a sense of pride and purpose and investment in community.  The biggest challenge I deal with is trying to figure out how to assist these amazingly vibrant young community members navigate their way through institutional racism and poverty.

"Walking Home." Katrina Knutson. 2012. Acrylic, aerosol and paper on canvas

"Walking Home." Katrina Knutson. 2012. Acrylic, aerosol and paper on canvas

Working on any new projects lately?

ArtsWork almost completely consumes my July and August (in an awesome way). I am painting a small mural about the earth healing itself. I have also been working on a portrait series of people murdered by police officers in the United States.

How do you practice creativity in your everyday life?

I draw every day! I'm in Tantrum Art Collective where I connect and create with 9 brilliant artists from the Twin Cities. I look at art. I talk about art. I make things. I grow things in my garden. I take pictures constantly of things that are interesting or strange or beautiful so I have a constant stream of reference images. I travel whenever I can to see different places and meet new people.