Natalie Knight packs her life into an ‘Art-o-Biography’

  • NatalieKnightBookLaunch
“I feel overawed at my own chutzpah, to think that I could capture my life in 224 pages of text and colour,” says Natalie Knight, the iconic art gallery owner, curator, researcher, writer and critic.
by GILLIAN KLAWANSKY | Aug 03, 2017

She said this at the launch of what she calls her “Art-o-Biography”, titled The Big Picture, at ORT SA Academy recently.

The captivating and vibrant Natalie Knight - founder of the Natalie Knight Gallery in Hyde Park - revealed just why her part memoir and part art-history book is set to be such entertaining reading. 

It details, she says, her experiences in the art world, both in South Africa and on her many travels. Having met art world greats like Andy Warhol and David Hockney, and sold their works, she has a treasure trove of stories.

Opening with Knight’s adventures in Mpumalanga researching the Ndebele culture, the book reveals why she’s an international authority on Ndebele art.

“Then there’s a quick flashback to the defining moments in my youth to explain who this person was who was engaging in all these activities. I was a very shy, quiet little girl, I still am!” she joked.

“My family had a huge interest in sport, especially tennis. Arts and culture was not on the agenda and my desire to become a writer and journalist was brushed aside.

“My mother, a lawyer, insisted that I become a lawyer, which proved invaluable, although for entirely the wrong reasons.” It was through law and tennis that Knight met her husband Zamie Liknaitzky a lawyer.

“He literally gave me a tickey after I beat him on the tennis court 6-love and told me to phone him when I was 18!

“Baruch Hashem, together for 60 years now, we’ve found the secret to enjoying great wealth - a wide range of kids and being very happy with our lot.”

Moving from law to art, Knight first opened an art gallery in a converted garage of her and Zamie’s home in St Andrews. They moved to that area to be close to King David Linksfield for their three kids. It was during this period that she met American pop art legend Andy Warhol.

“I formed a partnership with David Kruk, an art dealer based in London - we dealt in contemporary international art,” she explained. “David had a contact who sold us a set of 10 Warhol silkscreens of Mick Jagger, which in 1981 were worth $1 000 each, then R1 000. 

“These formed part of our first show in the gallery, titled: ‘Whatever happened to pop art?’ We also had works by renowned British artist, David Hockney.”

On their next trip to New York, Natalie and Zamie arranged to meet Warhol and buy some more works from his factory. “Warhol was a quiet, pale, shy chap who didn’t look much like a celebrity.

“We talked about organising a South African show with him in attendance, but once we heard what he and his entourage of about six would need, including first class flights and five star hotels, we realised it wasn’t viable.

“We bought another set of a series of 10 signed silkscreen prints of Jagger and some of Warhol’s iconic Campbell soup can prints.

“If I’d been less successful as an art dealer, I would have been a lot richer!” Knight likes to joke. “As it stood, I had to keep trading on profits to survive. I would have like to keep some Warhols but I had to keep selling.

“After Warhol died in 1987, the values of his work kept escalating. In 2016, the Jagger prints I sold for R1 000 each were each valued at $75 000 = close to R1 million. Not one of my clients was prepared to sell any works back to me. So, I think it was a good investment!

“The Warhol silkscreens spawned the birth of a new entity, Knight and Kruk. David and I worked together for 10 years, sourcing and selling international art, and eventually moved to the Hyde Park Gallery, one of the highlights of my career. I made a principle not to buy works (to sell) that I didn’t want to hang on my own wall.”

The next step was holding a one-man Hockney show. “Hockney made 17 of his drawings available for my exhibition and the Natalie Knight Gallery was the first gallery in South Africa to attempt a truly comprehensive show of his works.”

Yet things took a detour when the Hockney Foundation sent Knight a $1 000 account for copyright fees because of a Hockney illustration that had been published in a newspaper to promote her upcoming exhibition.

“I won the dispute but it was a disillusioning introduction to the mercenary side of art.

“Another shocking wake-up call, was when another art gallery opened a small Hockney show one week before my Hockney exhibition was due to open, cashing in on all my media hype. I was furious and let rip but Les, the owner, laughed and said: ‘Grow up, all’s fair in love, war and business.’. He was right, I had to grow up.

“These incidents threw me into the guts and glory of the art business. I earned a reputation of being tough because I knew I had to toughen up if I wanted a chance of succeeding in a cutthroat world.”

Later meeting Hockney and getting close enough to confirm that he indeed wore the mismatched socks he was famous for, Knight wrote an article based on their interview. Such experiences are only a few of the colourful tales shared in the book.

She also shares a blueprint for mentorship based on her expertise as a mentor at ORT JET, the enterprise development division of ORT SA, which assists small to medium sized businesses within the South African Jewish community.

This made it fitting that she launched her book through ORT2TALK hosted by ORT SA.

Knight says: “Life’s been described as a giant tapestry where we can only see the back of the cloth. Lots of knots and lose threads, areas of colour and darkness, are created through pinpricks and pain.

“During our lifetime, we don’t have the opportunity to fully see the big picture created on the other side of the tapestry. Looking back, I can see that the big picture is starting to emerge, but there’s still lots of brushstrokes needed before I can complete it. I hope that Hashem will grant me the time and energy to complete my mission.”


1 Comment

  1. 1 RACHEL GITAI 24 Jun
    WELL  DONE  !


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