Immediately upon meeting Kat Knutsen at the Green Bean cafe downtown for an interview, she points out the window towards UMass Dartmouth College of Visual and Performing Arts (CVPA) and says, “I painted that building — the Star Store building — right from here. I wanted to capture it so I could always remember this moment in time here.”
But it’s another painting — and another moment in time in a faraway place — which preordained our discussion in New Bedford last week.
In the summer of 2016, Kat Knutsen traveled from this city to Gdansk, Poland — and became one of a select group of artists to work on “Loving Vincent.” That’s the unique film based on the life and painting of Vincent van Gogh that has captured the imagination of artists, critics and movie-goers alike.
It’s billed as the world’s first “painted” feature — and is nominated for Best Animated Feature at this year’s Academy Awards ceremony, to be held Sunday, March 4 in Los Angeles.
And so, from the Green Bean via Gdansk, Kat Knutsen is bringing New Bedford to the Oscars.
In early 2016, Kat Knutsen saw a “Call for Artists” on social media. She was just into her first year as an adjunct professor at Bristol Community College, after graduating in 2014 with a masters of fine arts from UMass.
Yet, summer was looming — and Knutsen was intrigued.
The world-wide “Call for Artists” was for painters to work on a “painted film” based on Vincent van Gogh’s life and work. It meant traveling to and living in Poland for the summer, where the film was being produced.
Kat applied — as did about 5,000 other artists. In the end, she was one of only 125 chosen to work on the film. Those 125 artists were part of what was in total a six-year passion project.
It was originally envisioned as a short feature by the film’s writer and director, Dorota Kobiela, who initially planned to “paint” it herself. But the Warsaw Film School alumni decided to turn it into a feature-length film, and brought on a co-writer and co-director, Hugh Welchman, before scouring the planet for the 125 artists who were now necessary for the production of “Loving Vincent,” released by Break Thru Films.
One of the reasons that Kat Knutsen from New Bedford was chosen for this select group is a fundamental element of the business of art which she tries to instill in her students. Always have your portfolio stocked and ready! Kat did — and producers liked what they saw. Fortunately, her passport was ready, too, so off to Gdansk she flew when the BCC semester ended in spring, 2016.
In all, she would spend four months in Poland working on “Loving Vincent.” Four months working on ... one painting!
Which isn’t entirely accurate.
Here’s how the animated “painted” process the film employs worked: Each artist was assigned a painting representing a scene in the film. They would paint the first version. Then scrape it off and paint another, which moved the action forward infinitesimally, stroke by stroke, frame by frame, until their scene was finished — similar to the stop-motion claymation process. At the end, they were left with one final painting, slightly larger than 18 by 24 inches.
The process entailed working anywhere from 6 to 18 hour days. It was meticulous and exacting — especially the color matching, where each painting started and which had to be constantly adjusted throughout filming.
The Gdansk location was one of three and artists worked in what Kat calls “art cubicles” in a large studio. That precise color matching and mixing of paint could get messy — but not for Knutsen. With a passion for fashion, she spent a lot of time shopping in Poland and took care not to destroy her new wardrobe while at work. Many others weren’t as fastidious, she laughs, and a studio full of oil paint and artists resulted in the mess you’d expect.
What she didn’t expect, but made an impression on her, was the fact that all of the artists from the United States were ... women.
A mix of nationalities and genders were represented in the studio, but that distinguishing fact set the U.S. group apart. And lends a special resonance to the experience given the social moment the nation — and Hollywood — is passing through right now with the #metoo and #timesup movements.
Back in the U.S.A.
Kat Knutsen is back living in downtown New Bedford now, and teaching at the Taunton and Fall River BCC campuses.
It’s a job she loves — in a city that has come to mean a lot to her. Knutsen hasn’t just captured special moments in paint from New Bedford to Gdansk. She’s also helped create a few.
That keen interest in fashion, which finds her constantly knitting “Kat’s Hats” — found at downtown’s Hippo artisan gift store — also compels her to organize fashion events here in New Bedford.
The next is coming up on March 8 in that UMass Dartmouth “Star Store” CVPA building. “Fashion on Union” will feature local and regional designers and models. It’s a co-production with the designer, Chris Rogers from Providence, Rhode Island.
As publisher of the arts zine, “The Siren,” Knutsen scoured New Bedford for art and stories that let others capture their moments in print. She’s planning another incarnation of “The Siren” soon — this time with a mix of local and international editorial.
Though it all — the teaching, the event planning, the knitting — it all comes back to the art, which she constantly produces and frequently shares in tantalizing glimpses on social media and with her students. Kat teaches 2-D, 3-D, computer graphics, drawing and digital photography courses at Bristol Community College.
She lets me in on a secret at the Green Bean. She applied for and threw herself into the “Loving Vincent” project because of ... New Bedford.
Due to the vigorous arts scene here, the “constant action,” as she calls it, she wondered if she had what it really took to be accepted as an artist.
And so, after four months of intense painting — so intense that to this day she can still recreate the lines from memory alone — Kat Knutsen finally feels as if she’s proven something, if only to herself.
However, she’s proven more. That the State of the Arts in New Bedford will remain strong as long as there are creative people like Kat Knutsen constantly pushing at the boundaries of individual achievement.
Kat was born in Texas, grew up in North Carolina — but blossomed and continues to grow in New Bedford.
The producers write on the “Loving Vincent” website, “The art form of film is different from painting. Painting is one particular moment in time, frozen. Film is fluid, seeming to move through space and time.”
That’s Kat Knutsen’s moment in this city, too — a particular moment that nonetheless moves through space and time, and in the process defines both her and New Bedford now.
Find out more about “Loving Vincent” at lovingvincent.com. The 90th Oscars ceremony will be broadcast on ABC beginning at 8 p.m. on Sunday, March 4. Fashion on Union happens on Thursday, March 8 beginning at 6:30 p.m. The public is invited to attend. You can email email@example.com for more information.
Steven Froias blogs for the coworking facility, Groundwork! at NewBedfordCoworking.com. Email: StevenFroias@gmail.com.