Sunday, February 17, 2013

Christopher Knowles: Autistic and Awesome

Christopher Knowles is a poet and visual artist from New York City who was diagnosed with autism as a child.  He has had a long and successful career since he was fourteen years old... he is now in his fifties.  Christopher is exhibiting new oil marker drawings on canvas at Gavin Brown's Enterprise in Manhattan.  The show will be up for one more week... go see it.

I was not familiar with his work before I saw this show and so I didn't experience the exhibition from the perspective of his previous body of work.  What I see in these drawings of his is a tremendously bold and original visual language at play.  His drawings are fun, absent of a sense of effort or forcefulness, and fresh.  His compositions of football players are a dazzling display of flattened 3D forms transformed into abstract puzzle pieces.  His fruit drawings on the other hand, are boiled down, bare bone compositions that magnify the simple repetition and subtle differences shape to shape.

Let us examine the subject matter these works.  Football players, the Twin Towers, fruit, beer advertisement, rustic village cafe scenes, a traffic light, word play, an abstract geometric shape, fictional (maybe "made-up") characters... all of these things are of the ordinary, things you might see on TV, or things of the imagination of a child.  Interestingly enough there is only one emotionally charged subject: the Twin Towers.  But here Christopher doesn't portray them from a  melancholic or tragic angle... instead he accentuated their abstract character and flattened the Brooklyn Bridge, in the foreground, to create a visually interesting composition of contrasting simple and complex shapes that seem to make the image oddly 2D and 3D.

I appreciate the drawing of modest, non-political, and emotionally indifferent subject matter.  I think Christopher is just drawing the things that he has a visual interest in... and I think that this kind of motivation behind the creation of his art is in some cases more sincere or "real"  than artists that have supposed "good reasons" for making art... whether it be work that is political or cultural in nature, or is art for art's sake.  

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