It can be intimidating for an artist to modify or interpret famous works of art—but that didn’t stop Palm Springs’ Tysen Knight from doing so to pass the time during the stay-at-home phase of the pandemic.
The fruits of Knight’s labor can be seen in MasterPiece MashUp, his exhibit now on display at the Palm Springs Cultural Center. The show opened on July 1 with a showing of Knight’s 2018 documentary, The Art of Hustle: Street Art Documentary, and it will close on Friday, Aug. 5, with a free showing of his follow-up film, The Art of Hustle: Homeless Street Artist.
During a recent phone interview with Knight, he explained how MasterPiece MashUp came to be.
“The MasterPiece MashUp collection spawned from the idea of being at home, for the sake of the pandemic, back in 2020, when everybody was not knowing what they were going to do,” Knight said. “I was at home, and I was inspired by all of these particular artists like Picasso, Basquiat, Keith Haring, Roy Lichtenstein—and I wanted to pay homage to them. I started to look at all of their paintings; the ones that inspired me the most, (I) mashed those together into one painting, but in my style.
“I got an email from the Palm Springs Cultural Center inquiring about me doing a show there. I showed my (first) The Art of Hustle documentary there back in 2018, and they reached out to me and said, ‘Hey, we’d like to do a show and a screening of your film again.’”
The opening reception for MasterPiece MashUp was overwhelmingly positive.
“People really, really enjoyed it,” Knight said. “They said the work was powerful, and I actually made a few sales of my other pieces. … It was a lot of good vibes and positive energy and a lot of love and a lot of appreciation, which made me really so humbled and blessed that my artwork was able to reach people. I was surprised and shocked how many people came out for it.”
I was curious what Knight found intriguing about the works he decided to mash up.
“I grew up in New Jersey, so a lot of those East Coast artists had a really big influence on me, like Basquiat, Keith Haring and Andy Warhol,” Knight said. “It’s hard to explain, because as an artist, there are some art pieces that just speak to you.
“There’s something about a piece that really just grabs me. Keith Haring’s work just grabs me; it’s very simple, but then it has a lot of message in it, and I see he put a lot of love into what he did. Basquiat as well—I see all these beautiful things and thoughts that are going on through his mind, and he’s just trying to get them out on canvas. Of course, Warhol was a force way ahead of his time, with things like screen printing and filters. Obviously, Picasso’s work is amazing, especially some of his more cartoon-character kind of disfigured-women paintings, but he was a really fine artist who could do amazing detailed work.
“With all of that and my own little twist to it, I think I was able to create some incredible pieces. Even in some of my own original works, I still draw from some of those colors. I try to be as creative as possible and try to think what they were thinking when they were creating, (during) that whole ’70s-‘80s movement.”
The most important part of the MasterPiece MashUp works are Knight’s personal twists: He didn’t want to just copy and modify these great art pieces.
“Even though their style is there, my style—the bold black lines, and how I like to separate everything—I think is what brought everything together to make (the works) something unique,” he said. “Even if you compare those original art pieces to the MasterPiece MashUp I’ve done, you can see the total difference, but you can see the inspiration in that. I was able to capture the unique styles of each artist; I have Basquiat at the top, Warhol’s flowers in the middle, and then Keith Haring’s barking dog and the dancing men at the bottom.”
Knight agrees that the idea of even touching something like the “Mona Lisa” or anything from Basquiat can be intimidating.
“It has to be done right,” Knight said. “Especially if I’m going to pay homage to these artists, I definitely want to put something out there that is genuine and not just trying to just copy their work. There was a little bit of hesitation, but I had the inspiration to go forward. … I was confident enough that I knew I was able to represent it in a proper way, but also add my style to it. If you put a MasterPiece MashUp against one of my other paintings, and you didn’t know who the artist was, you would know that one artist did both of those paintings, just based off of my dark lines and bold colors.”
Both the MasterPiece MashUp works and Knight’s documentaries show how far the artist has come in his career.
“I think what people took away from watching The Art of Hustle: Street Art Documentary in the present … is just my progress as an artist,” Knight said. “I was able to progress in the art world, and grow as an artist, and grow into the artist I’m still going to become, because you never stop growing. A lot of the people who attended the filming in the art exhibition didn’t see that film when I released it in 2018. It’s called The Art of Hustle, and to see me hustling and trying to get my artwork out there and trying to find my own niche … now people get to see my progress in the present, and then go back and see what I did in the past, and put them both together. … It was a really cool experience even for myself to sit there and watch a film on me, and just see how far I’ve come—most importantly as a human being, but as an artist as well.”
MasterPiece MashUp will be on display through Friday, Aug. 5, at the Palm Springs Cultural Center at 2300 E. Baristo Road, in Palm Springs. The exhibit will close at 7 p.m. that day with a showing of The Art of Hustle: Homeless Street Artist; tickets are free. For more information, visit psculturalcenter.org.