Jack Knight

by Dana Kester-McCabe

Jack Knight is a prolific artist who paints large canvases with geometric shapes and patterns in brilliant sometimes neon colors with a style reminiscent of 1960’s pop art. He also makes sculptural assemblages from found objects painted with a similar approach.

Jack says he is a product of the Modernist and Pop Art movements which distracted him from his boyhood love of sports.

Jack Knight:
"In high school I saw a slide of Picasso's "Three Musicians" and I saw a painting of Stewart Davis's "Lucky Strike". I don't know if you recall that. But I thought those two things were really cool. When I went to school at Buffalo State College, right across the street was the Albright Knox Art Gallery; which is world renown for contemporary art. So I would go there two or three times a week and see these huge paintings by Frank Stella which were ten feet by 13 feet; Rosenquist paintings that were thirty feet long; Andy Warhol's pieces. So I would say that I was influenced by the artists of the sixties and the seventies, for the most part."

Many people who decide at an early age that they want to be an artist find it necessary to have a day job to make ends meet. Eventually their art fades into the background and they are lucky if they still get back to it when they retire. But Jack is an exception. He has had two parallel careers.

Jack Knight:
"For me, even though I had a career in the railroad industry for thirty-two years, most of it was in management positions; to me it was a means to an end. I mean, basically my railroad career subsidized my artwork. So once I got home at four or five, whenever I did, I had enough money to pay the mortgage and buy art supplies. And then, I had the weekends. The one thing that I notice now that I am retired: this is what I always wanted to do. I just wanted to make art every day to paint every day. Now I can do it. So the end result was that some day in retirement I would have this studio so I can make art every day.

"Now that time is here and it is great. Sometimes it is overwhelming. I just can't believe how nice it is. Since I don't need to make a living off my art I can do exactly what I want with my art. I don't care if people like it or don't like it. But I am perfectly content at what I do. And, sometimes I sell a painting, and sometimes I don't. I mean, every day I just enjoy the art that I am making."

Jack's basement studio is flooded with light and color. The walls are covered with paintings. He also sculpts what he calls constructions or collages of painted shapes and eccentric found objects: everything from plastic dining utensils to old toys to scraps of wood molding. They are very much the three dimensional embodiment of his paintings. He describes his work as a spiritual expression of something inside him. Yet while he has dedicated his creative pursuits to expressing that inner vision, Jack has kept an eye on the business of art. He has a prestigious resume of exhibitions and continues to look for venues to show and sell his work.

Jack Knight:
"I belong to the Rehoboth Art league so you can see one of my pieces in the annual member's show every summer. I belong to the Art Institute and Gallery in Salisbury. They have a fall exhibit so I have a piece in there. I belong to the Academy of Art Museum in Easton. Easton is a great little town. And that is a nice museum so I get to put a piece in there every year. I also have entered an exhibit in the Annapolis Federation of the Arts. There is an exhibit there so I have a piece in there. So I exhibit as frequently as I can."

Jacks technical approach begins with drawing right on his canvas.

Jack Knight:
"What I start out with after the drawing is done is I paint the border color. I used to do the border last. I found for me that, I won't say it's easier, but it makes more sense to do the border first and then the colors and shapes and forms will work better within that border.

Jack uses stencils and masking tape as much as he uses his brushes. Once he has decided on his composition he will mask off the area around one or two shapes. Then he pours two or three colors on that spot, swirling them to create a marbleized effect. Once this is dry he isolates another shape and adds flat colors followed in some places by patterns. The end result has both a graphic quality and dimensionality. The paintings stand on their own as a celebration of form and hue.

Jack Knight:
"Painting is a visual statement. To me there is nothing there but what you see. And I tell people… Some people say, "Is this Cubism?" and I say, "No, it's not Cubism." "Does it mean anything?" I say: "No, it does not mean anything at all. It is basically a visual statement." You look at it for what it is: the shapes, the forms, the colors. And if it something enjoy, something that is pleasing then I feel that I am successful. That's what it is.

"And, then of course, there are other painters that they paint, they're pastoral. They want to teach a lesson. Or there are social commentary painters. There is a whole gamut of things. But for me it's just basically a visual statement and that is it.

"I always do paintings based on a series. Back in Massachusetts the titles were very sterile. I had the Paragon Series Number 1-15. Paragon Series B. Paragon Series C. I needed to have something categorize the paintings. I had to have some kind of title. Then I wasn't titling them at all. And then I titled them basically to what did I feel from each painting. When we moved down here I called them Beau Soliel - the Beau Soliel Oyster. It has nothing to do with the painting itself but I needed a title for that series. So I did like thirty paintings Beau Soliel Series 1,2,3… And when I was done that series I started a new series and we had tried an oyster called the Otter Creek Oyster so that was the next series. So I did eighteen Oyster Creek Series. And when I was done that series I said let's go back to Fin's and find a new oyster. And this was a Prince Edward Island Oyster that is very good. And it is called Tatamagouche. So that was the next series: Tatamagouche Series."

"Then I said, "I don't want to do any more oyster series." So the next was called Sircus Series. That was Sircus spelled with and S rather than a C so that nobody would say: "Where are the clowns?" SO I got that done. We had a pet terrier that we had for nine years that we had to put away over Christmas. So we were really upset over that; but we got a puppy in March, a little mutt. And, we call her Abbey. So this series is called Abbey Row Series."

"I am not a dreary person. I like to be happy. I like to tell jokes. I like to kid around, things like that. So basically for me life is very positive. And part of being positive is colors and happiness. And maybe this reflects my personality, I do not know. The other thing is that I don't sell hundred's of paintings. But I don't care if I sell hundreds of paintings. But the people who do buy my work, I appreciate it because they really seem to enjoy it. "

If there is a running theme in all our artist interviews it is the value of pursuing a personal sense of vision both fearlessly and joyfully.

Jack Knight:
Don't try to paint or sculpt something that you think other people would enjoy. You do it on your own. You do it from your soul. And, we were talking before about spirituality, you know, it's you with in your work. If you really enjoy what you are doing then eventually it will come its way."