Fathers and Sons: A Conversation with Peter and Henry Knock
“Do I get your word you’re clocking off at half five?” Says Peter Knock, eyeing the tide rolling in on a typically balmy day in Leigh-on-Sea. We’re perched on a hard to get (and even harder to keep) bench outside the Crooked Billet pub. It’s only Tuesday afternoon, but already, the Essex estuary has drawn day-trippers from London and beyond, all jostling for the best view of the water, the best spot of shade, and the best cockles this side of Singapore.
A dyed-in-the-wool Drake’s customer since our days at Clifford Street, and a regular at our Savile Row store, Peter is an artist and illustrator who has worked for Rolling Stone, G.Q., MCA Records, Esquire, The Sunday Times, Pentagram Design and Radio Times.
His son, Henry, is a self-taught freelance photographer, known predominantly for his work shooting for some of the world’s biggest sports, fashion and lifestyle brands.
Wearing our latest additions in classic Madras, linen-cotton polo shirts, and Italian seersucker tailoring, we sat down with the Knocks to discuss fatherhood, the frozen moment, and the ‘footballer in court’ look.
You’re both in creative fields, how did you decide that painting and photography were going to be your mediums?
PK: I think we gave Henry the sense that he could have a role in the media as we made our living doing it. Henry’s mum was an illustrator for children’s books, and my occupation had him going with me sometimes to hand in a job to a magazine or a publisher, I remember taking him to endless exhibitions too, not always willingly, Henry used to whip round and say “where are the shops!”
HK: I wasn’t doing anything particularly creative for a long time. I was working in TV and film as a VFX assistant, and I kind of jumped from job to job. I did some production work for a while with Rushes Soho, Moving Picture Company, ITV, but I wasn’t fully loving what I was doing.
Working on the Jungle Book, I spent all my time in screening rooms with special effects supervisors. I was on the team that would create all the jungle, all the trees, everything was modelled separately, so I’d have a team of animators who were building those trees and I would then have to present those to a supervisor, and he’d look at them and say “I like it but that branch on the left is a bit too branchy”. Then Instagram came along and with that I found that I really love taking photos.
Initially, using the phone taught me composition, and I think it was just the perfect storm, social media was in its infancy, I had quite a large following early on, not by today’s standards, and brands wanted to work with those types of people, influencer wasn’t a word yet. It was like a back door into the industry, as it were.
PK: I always wanted to be an illustrator. At school I used to look at the illustrations in the Radio Times in the 1950s and 60s. I was always fairly reasonable at drawing, I suppose, I did quite well in art at school. When I left Brighton Art College I wasn’t really confident with my work and I took lots of odd jobs. I was a bus conductor for a year in Brighton. It wasn’t too mentally demanding, and it was good to get the work done and then work on my own series of illustrations.
I don’t think I could’ve coped with the demands of deadlines early on, it was about three and a half years before I actually went out to see people with my folder, and the first people I went to were Radio Times (a very different vehicle back then) and Harper’s & Queen magazine. Both of them gave me work, which was terrific, and both of the art directors I saw ended up moving to America, one to LA and two guys to New York and Canada and they continued to give me work from there.
I then got a regular column to illustrate for a few years in American Esquire, and GQ were giving me stuff, Rolling Stone. Particularly it was American magazines, I was always driving to Stansted to send over my artwork.
I’ve never seen illustration as a poor relation to fine art really, I think it is just a different form, but it is always in partnership with a text, well in my case it was, and what I loved to do alongside that, and what I just do now is work very slowly on these very small paintings, but they’re quite intensively painted, planting my own little narratives, my own ideas, that look like illustrations but they aren’t, strictly speaking.
It’s my own kind of creative narrative, I don’t have to tell you what it is, but I like that fact that they can have a little bit more mystery, you can’t go to the short story and read it and think “oh that’s why he’s picked that up,” it’s not explained.
I think that because magazines would often ask me to be quite literal with the interpretation of writing, it’s great for me to not just be crossing all the t’s and dotting all the i’s — hopefully people can make their own interpretations and takes on it. Someone once said to me that they think my pictures are often about what’s not shown, and I think that’s kind of what I aim at, bits of the world beyond the image.
Are there any particular artists or photographers that inspired you earlier on in your careers?
HK: My favourite photographer is Gregory Crewdson, who does these amazing cinematic pieces - everything looks like a still from a film, I wouldn’t say my work is inspired by him, for a while I wanted to create stuff like that and I soon realised that it was just impossible. He basically has a film crew to do one photo and then he’ll have a load of people doing post production on the image as well and it would be impossible to shoot for myself.
You said you are influenced by cinema and the potential of the 'frozen moment' as a narrative device, is this something that transcends photography and illustration?
HK: I think everything my dad does is very considered, very planned out, whereas because I’ve inherited his eye for composition, he’ll often be looking at some of my pictures and will say something like “I like that low angle it makes the subject look imposing” and I hadn’t thought about that I, just shot it intuitively, whereas I think more planning goes into his painting.
PK: Well, I have the time to plan, I’m not confronted with a shot to make, a model waiting.
Peter, did fatherhood change your outlook on style?
PK: I think I’ve been pretty consistent in terms of my taste.
HK: You do say things like you don’t think you can wear high-top converse anymore.
PK: Well, I think I’d still happily wear low-top ones. I’ve always liked the American mid-century look, a friend had a shop and would sell these US import shirts, it was magical to me, we all loved the idea of America, the movies, the whole larger than life idea that they offered, the California lifestyle, most of the music I like has been American; roots music, blues, jazz.
I used to wear two tone cowboy shirts as a student, I’ve always liked that sort of stuff, which I think you get with Drake’s, a sort of Anglo-American elegance with the whole relaxed shoulder thing. There used to be a term once, ‘footballer in court’ - all dressed up and oversharp, and it’s sort of the opposite of that, the way a Drake’s suit can fit, that almost sack cut with the rolling lapel, you feel relaxed, yet properly dressed at the same time, which helps, being a dad.
Where would you take us out for dinner?
PK: In London, I love J Sheekey, my dad used to take me there from the age of seven. It wasn’t quite the chic restaurant it is now, but it’s still the kind of same place. My dad was always very into seafood, and we’d go as a family. I love that old established thing. It’s been there, it’s adapted, but it’s got that essence, the place is still the same.
What is your favourite Drake’s piece at the moment?
PK: Well this goes back to that Ivy League style, I love the pale blue seersucker suit, I think of people, blokes older than me even, holidaying in the Hamptons wearing it. Maybe they have an apartment in Manhattan too, you know. To me it has that whole east coast American magic to it.
HK: For me I really liked the Western shirt, the rolling of the cuff on that is perfect for me, the Games suit too, really easy to wear, but stylish.
PK: Because suits aren’t worn so often by people who don’t have to wear them, I think we’re losing that approach, and in a restaurant at night, I quite like a bit of formality, but with Drake’s it is relaxed formal, which I think is its success. No one wants to look like they’ve just nipped out of a wedding reception for a quick fag.
What are your plans for Father’s Day?
HK: I’m actually away on a stag do on the Sunday.
PK: Ah, yes you are, I suppose I’ll be spending the day with your sister Sophie, the favourite child, haha.