Michael Knutson

Artist Statement

My paintings come from a desire to create slippery spaces that challenge my apprehension. Since they are intentionally difficult even for me to grasp, I think a brief narrative of my process might be helpful to the anxious viewer.

They start simply. I draw an expanding spiral on paper, map across it with triangles and place an irregular oval in each triangle. I then scan the drawing into Photoshop, make three duplicate layers, flip each duplicate layer into a different orientation, make them all visible and merge them. The result is a bilaterally symmetrical tangle of expanding ovals. I resize and re-proportion the image and print it onto paper (or canvas). In 2015 I made my first symmetrical "diptychs" by drawing a vertical line down the center of the image. When the ovals cross the center line their colors switch to become the colors of the lattices (the negative spaces), and vice versa. In 2018 I first divided the field with an "x" that spanned the four corners and created four triangular zones. I also created complex compositions such as "triptychs" and "polyptychs." 2020 was a lost year. Where did the time go? This past spring I began dividing the fields into zones of triangles and diamonds, and coloring the zones in alternating washes of warm and cool colors. When the transparent washes of the four oval layers cross from one zone to the next they not only switch from positive to negative, but appear to be completely different colors. My most recent paintings continue along this line, but on a much larger scale of 30" x 40." A further note on color: It is clearly the most important element of the paintings, but also the hardest to discuss because my color decisions are mostly impulsive. I don't think about the first zone color until a minute before I squeeze it out of the tube. (I only layer pure pigments- I never premix them.) The second zone color is almost as impulsive. When I begin to paint the four oval layers I may have a vague notion about what the dominant coloration of the whole might be, which might determine my color choices for layers one and two. When layer two is completed the painting is usually at its most vibrant and contrasting stage. But I have two more layers to paint, which result in an array of more muted and darker colors. This may be close to my earlier, fleeting vision, but more often not. It might even be better.

I draw inspiration from across the history of art, but I think my work has clear affinities with early 20th century European and mid-century Latin American abstraction, with carpets of the Islamic world, Navajo blankets and Amish and African-American quilts.

Michael Knutson
June, 2021