Solange Knowles

Solange Knowles

Apartamento Magazine - Solange Knowles
Issue #30

This article is featured in Apartamento magazine issue #30, click here to order your copy!


Los Angeles: For most of Solange Knowles’ adult life, she has had the same loft; a quiet, serene oasis set above the 24-hour buzz of downtown Hollywood. The space is a mix of organic modernism, her own furniture designs, and Black art and vernacular objects she has collected over the years. It is the private residuum of a nomadic life spent travelling around the world and making art. Beyond all of this, the space looks very fly. It almost goes without saying, Solange Knowles is very fly.

If there has been one constant in Solange’s multidisciplinary practice, it has been a deep, personal investment in world-making, in creating spaces both interior and exterior where aesthetics and affect, the seen and the felt, collide and form architecture. These are sometimes built out in the world at the scale of a territory; she has designs only capable of being surveyed from the sweep of an aerial shot, like a rodeo arena or a beached spaceship. Other times she works at the scale of a sofa in the round or a glass vase; a melody or an intonation. She is also an archivist, a collector of Black stories, our peregrinations, and the objects that carry them. Her home is as much a site of memory as a place to live, as so many other homes are. 

This loft has been there through all of it, the private island where her public investigations of space register themselves in the small, mundane arrangements of her everyday life. So much of what Solange makes is about the process of how she made it, the routines, repetitions, and rituals, the calendar of days and ways that inform how she relates to her work, the things she sees around her every day. With all of this in mind, I sat down with Solange to discuss the life of this apartment through the years, among many other things.

Apartamento Magazine - Solange Knowles

You’ve had this loft since you were 19 years old. Can you describe where you were in your life at the time and what originally drew you to the space?

It was a time of getting to know myself as a young woman and as a mother. I had moved with my son back to Houston after living in Idaho for a brief time, and I was doing a lot of songwriting for other artists. I would bring my son, who was one or two years old, to LA for these recording sessions. As my career as a songwriter grew, I wanted to find a place where we could have a bit more grounding, a home life there with more stable roots. I was a single mother and was looking for a building with a sense of safety when I found this loft space in Hollywood. I felt really connected to its ‘20s art deco architecture, its exterior, and all of its original mouldings and details. And the space inside got really good light. Also Hollywood was a very different place then. There was an underground punk scene happening there, but other than that, not a lot going on. I loved its proximity to all of the recording studios that I was going to in the Valley and North Hollywood. 

One of the sweetest memories I have is from when I first moved in. I had also signed a record deal, and so I had a joint house-warming/signing party in the house. I also spent a great deal of time working on my album Sol-Angel and the Hadley St. Streams there. It’s really beautiful to look back on the loft throughout all the different periods of my life, all of the different people and energies. No matter where I’ve gone or moved, no matter the friends or relationships that have come in or out of my life, this loft has always been a place of home. It’s been one of the most constant, grounding things in my life.

You’ve spoken before about how sensitive to space you’ve been from such a young age. It amazes me that at just 19 years old, you were so specific about the space you wanted to find as your home.

Spaces, especially interiors, were always my way of creating control in a really nomadic life. I grew up in tour buses and hotels and touring venues and studios, and I became a woman at 17 when I became pregnant with my son and became independent. I wouldn’t say I had the best taste or that I knew exactly what to do with space, but I can honestly look back and say that I had really clear ideals about architecture and about history. I guess I’ve always been drawn to places with history, places where you can feel someone else’s touch and sensibilities. And after leading such a nomadic life, I felt the one thing that I could control was building a world that cemented how I wanted to live—through architecture, through spaces, through interior worlds. 

What evolutions has the loft gone through over the years?

In the beginning, I remember having this big loft with just a mattress, a bed in my son’s room, and the most basic furniture that you could have. Over time I slowly started personalising it, making it mine. And then I remember, I was living in New York for a period, and my mom moved in while she was getting her home renovated. She totally Tina-fied it and painted all of the walls and put in curtains and added a bedroom. In the six months she stayed in it, she transformed it! I ended up moving back in when I was recording A Seat at the Table, and the neighbourhood had evolved so much. There was more of a scene, a real Hollywood pulse there. People and tourists visiting from all over the world, all of that crazy chaotic energy. People were always amazed that I lived in Hollywood itself.

Apartamento Magazine - Solange Knowles

Yeah, you’re in Hollywood Hollywood. Right there in it.

I actually taught my son how to ride a bike on Hollywood Boulevard—his first bike ride was right where the stars are. There’s something about me that really loves Times Square and Hollywood, these overpopulated places with history and lights. There’s also the Capitol Records building, which is some of my favourite architecture of all time. I’m such a Cancer, a crab, a nester, where I can just not leave the house for a long period of time. So having that heartbeat and pulse of energy outside was a healthy juxtaposition for me, and I decided to turn the interior of the house into a peaceful nest. I started to collect things with the intention of keeping them as lifelong objects that would become a part of my life wherever I am, envisioning how these objects and artworks could evolve with me over the next 40, 50 years. Over the last few years it’s the space that I come to that feels like a snapshot of these different chapters of my life. It’s really sentimental for me, for sure.

I love that so much. It’s interesting how certain spaces almost become teachers, teaching you how to live, shaping your daily ethics.

Absolutely. One thing that really stands out to me, oddly enough, is the bathtub. It’s a Japanese soaking tub. It completely immerses you up to your neck in water, just with you sitting. And I do most of my writing, conception, and ideation for performances and installations in the bathtub. I feel like this space really taught me the power of creating in proximity to water. Even as I’ve moved around, I still carry with me everywhere those original days of working in the bathtub, which is really unconventional, and sort of nutty. I even plan my trips and where I stay on vacations around this.

The beginnings of that love for the bath really started in the loft. Those days of just coming home alone from the studio, my son being at school, and that was my safe space. I recognise it as sort of recreating the environment of a womb, feeling safety in that, trying to recreate those early attachments to my mother. The bath was my space to take care of me, to listen to myself and my body and my heart, and have those awakenings of what I was being called to do and deliver into the world. It’s been a really sacred anchor in my life.

Apartamento Magazine - Solange Knowles
Apartamento Magazine - Solange Knowles

I’d love to ask you about some of the specific objects in the space, especially the works you designed yourself, like the sofa.

Over the last few years, I’ve been figuring out new ways to express my own design language and encompass all of my ideas and ideals into objects. I started working on the sofa for my creative collective, Saint Heron, and the first prototype of it is in the space. I wanted to create a modular piece with different variations, but all starting with the circle, which is very sacred to me. I wanted to use velvet, a material that was durable and tactile enough to live in, spill things on, draw on—not too precious but still having a little bit of luxe-ness that just makes you feel good. And that colour brown has been a constant in my work, embodying the idea of living among the soil and the land.

I’ve just been enjoying configuring it in all of these different ways. Originally I had it facing the window so that most of my guests and I would be looking to the light. Then I had it in a circle, which was a really intense social experiment, witnessing people have such intentionality with their energy and their body language, just absolutely mirroring the person across from them. And then I opened it up into this current configuration, and it felt really right. It’s not as intense as the circle, but you still have that sort of flow of energy from your neighbour. I spent my last birthday with all my favourite people on the couch, watching everyone interact and breathe life into this object of mine, so now it’s become a sacred memory.

Apartamento Magazine - Solange Knowles

The glass table and the lamp in the back corner of the main space also look like your designs.

Yes. The table and the lamp reflect my interest in geometry and pyramids. I have both a circle and a pyramid tattoo. I’ve always been attracted to the pyramid, and when my mother told me later in life that I was conceived in Egypt, it made a lot of sense. I started to investigate how the pyramid lines up with a lot of constellations I’ve always felt a strong connection to. It’s like I already have the vision, and then to seek out pieces like the Massimo and Lella Vignelli table is a way to affirm my language through pieces I collect and live alongside.

I also designed an aluminium bench for the space, which was my first time working with metals. It has an etching of a Tunisian saint, Saint Cyprian of Carthage, based off a painting by Father Jerome Sanderson. I’ve had a lifelong curiosity about Black saints—Saint Heron was actually an Egyptian saint who was martyred—and during the pandemic, I became really attached to some of Saint Cyprian’s writings and found this beautiful painting of him. It reminded me of so many Black men in my life. He reminded me of my uncle Larry, his bone structure. It took four or five months of working with this artist and a metalworker to get the etching right, paying attention to every detail, trying to get the hair texture right, trying to get the ears right. I put a lot of love into it. 

Another sacred object in the space: the DJ Screw tape. I was in Houston working on When I Get Home, and I had gone into Screwed Up Records one day, and they had all of the CDs of the various tapes. I was like, ‘No, I’m here to get a tape tape’. And they’re like, ‘Well, we have one left’. That was just so symbolic to me, and such a blessing to my life. It’s a really special piece to me. Framing it with the large mat was my way of making sure it took up as much space in the loft as possible. I have innovation angels, and he’s one of them for me, for life.

Apartamento Magazine - Solange Knowles

You’ve long been a supporter of other Black artists, especially Black women artists. What are some of the artworks you felt moved to live with here

My relationship to living with art comes from my mother. My mother collects a lot of African and Black art, and so I’ve always lived among Black women artists, work that looks like me and gives me a sense of pride about my own beauty and sense of self. I feel I wouldn’t be even a fraction of the artist that I am today had I not had the privilege to grow up immersing myself in work that gave me a sense of a compass in life.

A lot of the work that I have is in conversation with my mother, whether it be an artist that she’s introduced me to or work that we’ve seen together. It echoes what feels like home to me, childhood memories, or reflections of my own journey. There’s a Robert Pruitt work that’s sacred to me. He’s from Houston, and the men and women in his work are the kinds of men and women I recognise from my own life.

There’s also a work by Elliott Jerome Brown Jr., a photographer who I just absolutely adore. I love the way he photographs the Black body, and I feel so reflected and seen in his work. It’s above the speakers in the audio corner, which is a focal point of the space. I was on a mission to find speakers that can exist on their own as sculpture, that reflect my visual language through design, and I found this guy who has an insane collection of speakers in a garage in Canoga Park. I spent three years going to visit him, testing out and listening to and then finding these speakers. They’ve been such a gift to how I experience music.

There are also a lot of conversations about Black hair in the space. Black hair has been a big part of my life, with my mother being a hairdresser and growing up in the hair salon. The Ekoi headdress is one of those things where you walk into the space and you have a humbling experience being in her presence. She demands the kind of respect that really humbles you. The Alison Saar work in the bedroom reflects a time in my life with a lot of weight to the things that I was carrying. I’ve been a fan for a long time of her work and her mother Betye’s work. And going back to that bond I have with my mother through art, I’ve watched a couple of documentaries that feature Alison and Betye and feel a lot of similarities to me and my mother.

Apartamento Magazine - Solange Knowles

Often, conversations about art and design revolve around matters of taste, which can feel quite reductive. Your approach goes far beyond that—you’ve chosen each object in the space with such intentionality. Each object carries a deeply intimate story about how you receive and perceive the world.

In my home, I definitely have to feel drawn to an object in a metaphysical, spiritual way, where it feels like I can’t live without it. I rely on these objects to teach me things about myself and to reflect things in me that I need to listen to and work on. I really look to all of these as things that I would leave on my own personal altars, or if I were to be gone, what I would want to be a representation of who I was and what I believed in.

Another example is the Toyin Ojih Odutola piece in my office. I saw a version of that work on Tumblr and hit her up like, ‘Hi, I’m a big fan of your work. I would love to meet you and one day collect your work’. And that started a lifelong friendship. We were on similar paths as artists at that time, emerging into our identities of who we were and the stories that we wanted to tell as artists, and having long conversations about what we aspired to do with our work. It reminds me so much of a time of breakthrough for both of us; it just embodies our friendship and our sisterhood in such a profound way.

That’s amazing. Shoutout Tumblr. And internet friends who become real friends. OK, I’m dying to ask you about the ballet! You composed an original score for the New York City Ballet’s Play Time. I went to one of the shows last week, and it was incredible.

I really appreciate that.

Apartamento Magazine - Solange Knowles

What was the genesis of the project?

After Bridge-s and In Past Pupils and Smiles, I felt really connected to working on musical compositions and removing myself as a performer. I was in conversation with Wendy Whelan before the pandemic about bringing Bridge-s to the New York City Ballet and performing it in the courtyard, and then Covid happened and halted those conversations. As things started to stabilise, they reached back out about me doing a piece for a ballet by Gianna Reisen. I was familiar with her work, I knew that she’d worked with Virgil Abloh years earlier, and I really appreciated her taste and her fresh perspective on dance. I had a lot of time to dedicate just to this one work in a way that in the past I had not. A lot of my past work was impulse work coming straight from the gut and the gall. I’ve usually been in environments where I was working on a dozen projects at once. Having three months just to dedicate myself to this piece was such a rebirth of my process and the environment that I want to be able to work in for my spiritual and mental and physical health. 

I wanted the piece to be adventurous and have lots of twists and turns and changes, and to be a representation of my own healing journey the last few years—the highs and the lows, some of the days of extreme joy, and then some of the days of extreme grief, exploring how those things can exist together simultaneously with one another.

Apartamento Magazine - Solange Knowles

Your practice is deeply multidisciplinary; you often create or direct every single aspect of a work—from film to design to choreography to composition to costuming. What was it like to focus solely on composition? Can you describe your creative process with the other artists involved?

Collaborating can be such a vulnerable thing—to invite someone into your world, and for them to invite you into theirs. This process felt like a really beautiful spirit of marriage between the costumes, the score, and the movement, and I think the outcome was so special.

I started with sketching out ideas with my voice, and I spent about a month just singing melodic forms, melodic ideas, building harmonies, building core structures with my voice. Usually, in the past, it would be me sitting in a room with my trumpet player, singing to exactly what I wanted the trumpet to play, and then saying, ‘OK, these are the drums that come in right here’, sort of building that together. But for the first time, I actually wrote the piece before working with any musicians. Once I brought musicians in to interpret my writing, the process became a sort of band camp in such a fun, joyful way. It was a couple of months of going to the studio every day, working with these incredible musicians to bring this to life.  At the beginning of the process, I remember having Gianna come and listen to the first few minutes and telling her, ‘It’s going to go into a few different places’. And she said, ‘Go absolutely where you want to go. No matter how experimental or traditional or classic, I’m down for it all’. I appreciate how she gave me freedom to do that. From there she spent about a month and a half choreographing the piece, and I feel it all came together so beautifully. Being able to go back to experience it among the audience was the best gift of all throughout the whole process. The gift of sitting in Lincoln Center and seeing all of these beautiful, phenomenal people becomes the art in itself.

Apartamento Magazine - Solange Knowles
Apartamento Magazine - Solange Knowles

Yes, there was this lovely call-and-response energy with the crowd—a feeling that is of course native to Black performance spaces, but that I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced at a ballet. Absolutely the best crowd I’ve ever witnessed at Lincoln Center, coming out to support the work.

That means so much to me. That was the best part of it all for me. I cried so much, for far too long. And I’m still on my Finsta talking about it. I know all my friends are like, ‘Girl, wrap it up’.

I’m curious about what’s next for you. What projects are you immersed in that you’re most excited about?

Saint Heron is releasing a series of glassware collections soon which we’ve spent the last couple years developing. I’ve always been curious about working with glass, the way it comes from the earth and then crystallises into something both transparent and mysterious. It has been really interesting to submit myself to the material. I stayed in Miami for a couple months during the pandemic and decided to take glass-blowing classes while I was there. The process is a song and dance of movement, where you constantly have to be moving and on your toes, responding to how it moulds, twirling the bowl to prevent it from drying. You really have no control; it controls you. Glass-blowing was a real allegory of surrendering. There’s been so much joy and rebirth in working with my hands and my body on something new. And movement has always been the way to silence my mind. I’ve tried so many different variations of meditation and gone on retreats, and nothing can create that soundness of my mind, body, and spirit like movement. It’s a necessary part of my process across all of my practices.

Apartamento Magazine - Solange Knowles

Has glass become your favourite material to work with?

Having explored design ideas with aluminium, wood, glass, and other materials these last couple years, I think glass has my heart for sure. It’s been the most gratifying in terms of start to finish, sketch through completion. And I got lucky. Early on I was put in touch with this phenomenal young Black glass-blower who lives in Philadelphia named Jason. To enter this world through the lens of a collaborator who looks like me, to share the experience of being Black in the world of design with others, has felt so comfortable, safe, and enriching. 

I went on a road trip to Detroit, and I had such an eye-opening experience at Dabls, an African bead museum. The founder of the museum worked in art and in other museums for a long time but became really fatigued and frustrated with the politics of these other institutions. He started the bead museum to channel an understanding of these small objects rooted deeply in Black and African history, to create an institution that everyone can experience and collect and bring home with them. It’s this idea that we can put our own system into what we deem valuable. It made me dig deeper into what that object could be for me, and glassware became the answer—objects that I put a lot of my energy into. I’m excited to see how folks respond to it.

Apartamento Magazine - Solange Knowles

Saint Heron is so inspiring for any of us who feel it’s necessary to create alternatives to existing institutions, for those who feel we should make our own paths, build our own spaces.

It’s really the only way for me at this point. It takes a lot of tenacity, and there are times that we definitely feel we’re at a dead end or that we have to circle back to the drawing board before we can bring an idea to life. It’s definitely hard work, but it’s truly the most rewarding work for me. We feel extremely privileged to be doing it. Saint Heron started from being deeply rooted in music and wanting to create a call-and-response with the community for innovation and experimentation in Black music. It evolved into an art practice as we began to create immersive spaces and installations, exploring intersections between music, art, and Black history. Our first time doing this was with Rashaad Newsome, who made an installation from a car for a history that I wanted to pay homage to: No Limit Records, selling records out of trunks of cars as a blueprint for Black local record labels. This installation became a source for people to gravitate towards, to touch, to feel, and to experience that history.

We’re now pivoting to new chapters that I want to open. The first chapter is an archive about Black artists, wanting to preserve our stories and journeys. After working with so many institutions as an artist, I feel really deeply that we should have ownership of these stories from this renaissance of Black art. In 50 or 100 years, I want our grandchildren to be able to read about a Black woman sculptor like Barbara Chase-Riboud working with bronze, and then develop their own curiosity to work with bronze. 

Another chapter is making work of our own that we feel is important to bring into the world as an institution, with a clear ethos of what it is we stand for. As we transition into this, it’s a very vulnerable but exciting time. I can’t wait to unleash that into the world.

Apartamento Magazine - Solange Knowles
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