Archan Knotz did not pick up a paintbrush until she was 27 years old. The gesture could have been just another attempt at discovering something meaningful to do but the brush, the paint and the canvas turned out to be what was missing from her life.
The young German woman was on the classic journey to find herself. Before taking her first art class, Archan had worked as an industrial sales person and a graphic artist, travelled to India, Greece and the Netherlands, and lived in a commune. It was a friend’s invitation to join her at a life drawing class that moved her forward in a completely unexpected direction.
“My first show was in Frankfurt at the cafe off the club where I worked as a bouncer,” Archan says. “There was all kinds of people coming from Canada for a trade show in Frankfurt and one of them bought one of my paintings. That was how the connection to Canada was made.”
Emigrating to Canada three years later, Archan wrote to the person who had bought painting, suggesting she could stop by Nova Scotia for a visit.
She never left.
A portfolio of photographs of her pre-Nova Scotia paintings reveal huge canvases that are bold and bright.
“I did all kinds of mediums at first, sculpting, life drawing, acrylic, and eventually I moved into watercolour,” explains Archan. “I started out with very raw, emotional paintings. I worked very much with colour. That’s how I expressed what I wanted to express. It was a raw expression of colour.”
She says the shift to watercolour, what she is best known for locally, came as she settled into her new life in Nova Scotia.
“I became more peaceful inside,” she says. “I didn’t need to be right in people’s faces. That’s what I needed to do when I was 27 and I was really searching, but now I don’t feel like I need to do that anymore. And also I got better at the technique. I took a lot of courses. I progressed to a different style.”
Yet buried beneath all these layers of paint is the reason she turned to art in the first place.
“I wanted something I could be good at, that cannot be judged,” she says. “Art cannot be judged. It’s an opinion. And that was from my own school experience so it was such a relief for me that I could do something where I’m not judged. Even if people don’t buy it, I don’t have to take it personally.”
Archan grins and shakes her head.
“When I started to draw, I was not good. I was horrible. But it was freeing, it was something I could do on my own. It made me feel special and nobody could judge. That was really important to me and that’s why I think I still paint.”
Like most artists, Archan needs a job to support herself. For the past seven years, she’s worked as an educational assistant (EA) at schools in Pugwash and Oxford, bringing her passion for art to the high-needs students with whom she works.
“Sometimes special needs students are really good at creative expression, drawing or dance, but rather than letting them do that, we medicate them or make them do things they aren’t good at.”
That idea motivated her to start studying for a degree in English and psychology with the goal of becoming a teacher but four years of part-time studies later, that plan has changed.
“I turned 50 in May,” she says, both excited and shocked by this milestone “And because I’m taking my Bachelor of Arts and I’m 50, there’s this feeling that I’m this certain age so what am I willing to do? Am I really willing to do what it takes to go into a new career?”
It’s a question Archan is now struggling with.
“I was going to be a teacher but that has changed,” she says. “I would not be good at classroom management. I work better in small groups.”
She still plans to graduate with her degree in the fall of 2014 because “I think a person needs a degree for whatever they want to do. Anything I want to do with my life needs psychology in it.”
Because it influences her art as well. According to Archan, creating art brings balance to our lives.
“First of all, it brings gentleness into a person’s life, and self-discovery. [Your drawing] is not looking like anything you want it to look like. That’s really eye-opening. It doesn’t give you instant gratification, it’s not your masterpiece, not if it’s the first one you do. So it teaches you not to judge yourself because if you do, you will never pick up a paint brush again.”
Even though her work sells, Archan believes art for art’s sake is more important.
“It is a very mindful thing to do, to just let it be, to not be constantly looking for something out of it. Maybe somebody likes it and buys it but maybe you don’t even want to sell it because it is too valuable to you.”
What amazes her is the reaction she gets when people find out she is an artist.
“You become famous. Art isn’t valued but at the same time – ” she puts her hand to her face to mimic people whispering with excitement – “they say, ‘Oh, Archan is an artist. Did you know?’ You are an instant celebrity in some ways. I don’t get it because culturally, art isn’t valued but they seem to see you as special. Maybe because they think you are born with that talent.”
That’s an idea Archan makes sure she debunks when she speaks to a class about being an artist.
“What I think is very important to get across to the students is that I struggled, and still do. I show them stuff nobody has ever seen because you just don’t show people the stuff you aren’t good at. But they need to see that because they think you are born with the ability. Some are but most of us aren’t. We have to work really hard to get something on canvas or on paper or whatever. I think everybody can be an artist if you work hard enough.”
|Archan in her home studio in Streets Ridge, NS.|