In her latest body of work, Liz Knox explores moments of recollection with exuberance and spontaneity, exploding preconceptions of genre in the process.
In the unassumingly titled Figs (oil on linen, 101.6 x 81.3cm) Knox pushes the boundaries between painting as object and threshold in unexpected ways. The negative space emboldened in pure cadmium red is in concert with lush green and deep ultramarine. It’s a scene partially deconstructed and redefined by a field of colour, pinned by instinctively drawn lines. Knox’s joy in this core ‘density’ of ‘edible’ scarlet is palpable. The sensuous quality of the paint and its ‘succulent’ hue is a powerful visual trigger the viewer can equally dive into. Therein lies its strength and beauty. The painting is a process of creation, completed and held in the mind’s eye of the viewer. Knox’s finely tuned composition presents an extraordinary alignment of elements, within and beyond the picture plane. There are familiar anchors in still life fruit and foliage, however with this domestic certainty comes a tantalising opportunity to reimagine the space as our own. The energy of that exchange is supremely balanced, an invitation for a journey we might not expect of the genre. Knox breaks historic preconceptions of demure, decorative still life, offering something far more dynamic and essential.
Gli Oggetti Ricordati (Things that remind) (oil on linen, 91.4 x 91.4cm) brings floating planes of memory, architecture and objects together in free association, heightened by almost musical accents of gallant colour and form. Thoughts emerge and recede as you move into the painting, anchored by a square of dominant yellow, shimmering at the heart of each iris, ripe with creative association. The overlap of images and objects feel like cumulative life experience and stream of consciousness. We see a glimpse of the Grand Canal in Venice in gentle tones, drawn from the passage of time. The recollection is the artist’s, but the strength of her composition invites the viewer to make their own connections. The ambiguity of sunny yellow, contrasted with an ever-present ground of darkness beneath, adds to the mystery of shifting planes and opaque windows. Darkness is a holistic element in the composition, as in nature and life, a strong baseline of recognition that makes colour and light positively sing.
Full of poise and definition, Een Perspectief van Amsterdam /An Amsterdam Perspective (oil on linen, 102 x 76cm) is another fine example, like a madrigal of unaccompanied voices in lucid harmony, each visual note contributes stunningly to the whole. There is a highly evolved awareness of painting – as history, discipline and journey. A red Malevich-like square at the centre anchors the composition, with elegant blooms growing optimistically in the viewer’s foreground. We navigate triggers of memory, the intrigue of windows and the mind-altering scale of a crow alighting on a building. Awareness shifts and expands as the mind meanders through the painting, held by its masterful internal architecture. Knox describes the ‘colours and textures’ in this work like ‘background thoughts’, underpinned with ‘a longing to go back’ and the realisation of something ‘longed for, but unattainable.’ Tellingly, this is ‘An Amsterdam Perspective’ a moment born of memory and the ephemeral nature of life. Knox’s sharply elegant command of composition and her sophisticated use of colour are products of over forty years’ experience and vital experimentation. A graduate of Edinburgh College of Art in 1971, her command of the medium arguably surpasses that of her tutors, Sir Robin Philipson and David Michie. She is a figure in Scottish Art whose time has come.
Knox equally comes into her own in the landscape genre. In Bothag Uaine Rannoch / Green Hut Rannoch (oil on canvas, 71 x 102cm) the artist’s large-scale bold abstraction becomes something far more nuanced. The contrast between fine gestural brushwork and more geometric human marks in the landscape express the dance between instinct and design that painting truly is. Whilst the scene is anchored to place, it also plays with the idea of landscape and the many horizons to be found within it. In Monadh /Moor (oil on linen, 92 x 153cm) Knox creates a profound sense of stillness in a landscape that is simultaneously bleached desolate and peat rich, swathed with subtle light and marked by posts of human impact. The feeling of this painting is elemental, we can feel the cold wind on our face and the expanse of land and water extending beyond distant clouds. This isn’t merely a scene of the Scottish landscape but a more accurate depiction of the powerful and unexpectedly subtle imaginative space it is. Every interlocking plane and mark contributes to the whole and the foreground beneath the viewer’s feet feels solid because Knox’s design instils confidence. This assured vision can also be seen in the looser, more gestural brushwork of A Moment in April (oil on linen, 69 x 74cm) where bluebells burst out of a dark wood. Abstracted golden sunlight and a foreground nest with two eggs are spun with life. The idea of Spring is presented in partial darkness, but as the title suggests it is a moment and that will surely pass. Knox resists the explosion of colour so rampant in contemporary art, delivering furrows of darkness and light, together with the dual suggestion of abandonment and renewal anchoring our thoughts to the bottom far right corner. Our view of the nest from above feels reassuring and vulnerable at the same time. The recognition in that moment is captured beautifully by an artist at the height of her powers.
Georgina Coburn 2020
Art Historian and Critic.
©Copyright Liz Knox 2021, member of DACS.