By Mario Varricchi
Damon Knight is a West Footscray based artist who started out drawing characters from Peanuts comics and soon found himself painting trains. He took a break after experiencing the wrath of the law then further honed his skills painting characters in Richmond alleyways in the late 1980s. He ultimately progressed to full wall murals which attracted many private commissions. Working firstly as a glass-blower and then spending many years screen-printing, Damon is currently working with a mixture of air-brush, spray paint and hand painted oils on large board.
Happiness is a warm puppy – Lucy Van Pelt (Charles M. Schultz) Peanuts
“My earliest recollections of art are of me drawing Snoopy over and over on a blackboard and rubbing it out and then doing it again. I could never get Lucy right, I remember that. I did all the other characters, Snoopy, Charlie Brown, but I could never get Lucy right and it used to annoy the hell out of me.”
I think I’ve discovered the secret of life, you just hang around until you get used to it. – Sally Brown
“Then, all throughout high school I was always into art. That’s when I first saw graffiti, in those early 80s movies, I think Beat Street was one; I was more interested in the graffiti than the break-dancing in the films. I remember always pausing the video on the artwork. My friend’s older brother had these Henry Chalfant books on subway art which I looked at for hours and hours and hours. I went out and bought my own copies and looked at them for hours and hours and hours. I then went to the local hardware shop and bought Dulux spray paint. It was expensive too for the late 80s at $7 a can! So I carried them, I had no idea about prepping walls so I was spraying straight onto brick walls and it was just getting sucked straight into the wall and I couldn’t understand what was going wrong but you work all that out.”
Oh, good grief! – Charlie Brown
“I was just writing letters, I tried to write NOMAD but all I got was NO because all the paint ran out. Back then walls were walls, there was no graffiti to graffiti over so you’d paint straight on the wall and it’d just suck it straight in. It was around Richmond in the late 80s and mostly in alleyways. I knew a few other people (who graffed) but not very well, I talked to them but I did my own thing. I’ve never really been into the whole crew thing. I then got caught painting trains so I stopped. I went to court and got a six month good behaviour bond and a three hundred and something dollar fine and I had to go all the way out to Frankston because that’s where I got caught. So I stopped for a long time.”
Try not to have a good time . . . This is supposed to be educational. – Lucy Van Pelt
“I studied at RMIT for a year but left to start working as a glass blower. I did that for four years, making pipes and bongs for the ‘Off Ya Tree’ shops. Now they’re all made in India. It wasn’t real scientific glassblowing, it was fairly standard but it still takes a while to learn. Towards the end I was able to do things fairly elaborately. It takes a good eight years to get really good. I had been there for four so I was starting to do hand blown sort of stuff. The people there were graffing so I started going out with them along the train lines. They were writing letters but when I went out I was doing characters. Letters weren’t interesting to me, I liked doing characters and because I was one of the only ones doing it people started noticing them and I was being asked to do walls. They knew that it wasn’t going to be classic letter structure and that’s what they wanted. One of the first walls I did is the piece on Somerville Road on the side of what’s now happymaree. I also did a wall in Collingwood of a Cosmonaut. Those were my first big pieces done about 10 years ago now. I also got some commissions through a screen print of a sparrow that I stuck up around town with my email address. I was working as a screen printer and they were good enough to let me hang around and do my own thing after work. All on their stock and using their inks and machinery. I planted about 300 sparrow prints all around Melbourne but I only put my email on the last 100 and I got a few jobs from that. My first exhibition was at a gallery in Fitzroy called ‘Artholes’; I think they’ve changed their name now. It was a group show and I sold a few pieces.”
What’s the use of living if you don’t try a few things? – Charles M. Schulz
“Right now I’m working on a technique where I’m combining airbrush and oil on larger size pieces of wood and working out that style. There’s so many people doing wall art now so I’m going back to more gallery sized things and work on a technique where I combine airbrushing with spray paint and hand oils, sort of older and newer together. Trying to make a traditional oil portrait but modernised. It’s kind of a Pre- Raphaelite style.
I still like doing walls but I’m not putting myself out there as much. If they come along I’ll do them.”
Be yourself. No one can say you’re doing it wrong. – Snoopy
“Go with your gut feeling and keep with it. There’s always going to be people who say what you’re doing is wrong, or you’re doing it wrong. Don’t listen to them, do what you think is right and stick with it. There are a lot of experts out there who claim to be experts but just do what you think is right.”
Did you ever manage to draw Lucy?
“Ha…I’ll have to go back and give it a try.”
*All subheadings direct character quotes from the Peanuts comic strips by Charles M. Schulz
Contact Damon Knight:
Facebook: www.facebook.com/Unofficial-Nomad- Art-1430541973869959/
Mario Varricchio is co-proprietor of arts-focussed café ‘happymaree’ in Yarraville. He cooks, he writes, he draws and is the taker of photos. He also talks.