Emma Knight’s imaginary gardens and landscapes picture magical worlds of color and exotic plants in mysterious, lush settings. They evoke Eden-like terrain with nods to Southern forests of hanging moss and steamy states with snakes climbing trees or slithering for cover.
“My latest pieces,” says Knight, “have definitely been based on Henri Rousseau’s jungle paintings with a little taste of sci-fi TV too. These paintings can be interpreted as visits to other planets or as other life forms visiting us here on earth. Our recent invasion (of sorts) dealing with aerosols, our changing climate, and the importance of different beings finding a way to live together, all sort of converge in these paintings.”
Knight says her landscape paintings are influenced by a childhood love of fairy tales, cartoons and science fiction.
Planet Henri is one such painting. “Clues,” she says, “that you are on another planet include the two moons (or suns) in the upper right, and the space saucer peeking out of the grass in the lower left. Bubbly and prickly forms float together without incident.”
While now attracted to the other worldly and fanciful, Knight was initially drawn to photography and is still swayed by it in composing scenes. “I often start by taking lots of photographs on walks and hikes. Back in the studio, the scene changes into something a bit more surreal,” she says.
Knight works predominantly with water mixable oils on canvas, using a slow process which involves building many layers of thin paint. Her subjects vary from Southern and imaginary landscapes to abstraction, always manipulating line, color, shape and texture to evoke mood.
“Although oil painting is my main medium, I love trying different things. I’ve found that when I’ve taken a workshop in something totally different, like ceramics or printmaking, it always inspires something new in my painting—i.e. a new texture, line or process.”
Knight grew up in Richmond, Va. where she now lives after two decades in Savannah, Ga. She notes that her parents were supportive of both her and her brother studying art in college. Her mother had gone to art school and worked in fibers. She remembers her father quoting a respected business friend who said he would always hire an art student as they knew how to solve problems.
Knight received a Bachelors in Studio Art from Mary Washington College, also getting credits at Virginia Commonwealth University. She later certified to teach art K-12 at Georgia Southern in Savannah.
“When I first started painting, I wanted to strip the details of the subject out as much as I could. Now I find that I’m adding the details back in, but picking and choosing as I go. I also seem to be painting more from imagination than from real places,” says Knight.
“My tastes run all over the place—but I think I love modern and contemporary art the most. Certainly, the art history I studied and the museum shows I’ve seen have influenced me. Georgia O’Keefe, Tamara Lempicka and Lee Bontecou are also favorites of mine.”
Knight says her art philosophies land somewhere between formalism and emotionalism. “I really just want the viewer to find some sort of escape from the day when they look at my work. If they happen to ponder something deeper—all the better! I paint because I wouldn’t know what else to do. It is when I feel the most content.”
—Elizabeth Howard, Streetlight‘s Art Editor
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