Richmond Shines a Bright Light on VCA’s Dark Knight
The Virginia Center for Architecture is nothing if not filled with talent, a statement to which Richmond magazine attests this month as it has awarded its 2011 Theresa Pollak Emerging Artist award to Eric Knight, who oversees the daily operations of the Center’s gift shop.
To many, Knight had emerged as an artist decades ago. His earliest work from the 1970s was more realist, he says. Influenced also by Expressionist, Pop, and cartoon art—not to mention his abiding interests in Surrealism—his more recent works in pen and India ink as well as collage might be characterized as Self-Expressionist.
The Richmond magazine award is named after one of Virginia’s pre-eminent painters who herself was an emerging artist in the 1920s. Her amazing life ended in 2002 at age 103.
Of Knight, the Richmond magazine jury affirmed that his work has been developing for a long while—with influences as varied as Albrecht Dürer, Max Ernst (Dada artists in general, for that matter), and time at the San Francisco Art Institute and New York City’s Cooper Union— “but Eric Knight’s work merits wider notoriety,” they said. “His signature pieces … are jewel-like miniatures that radiate light while exploring dark themes that take the viewer into another world.”
Knight has concentrated on ink drawings, which he does freehand without corrections, because it is a low-overhead, easily relocated art form, he says. This was particularly meaningful for a man who has moved about the country as much as he has, at least until he came to Richmond in 1999 and subsequently met his parallel other, graphic designer Lizette Gecel.
On a more pragmatic level, though, despite an interest in a wide range of artistic endeavors, including his eclectic tastes in music, Knight decided 20 years ago to concentrate on drawing and collage because, as he says: “Life is too short, so I didn’t want to try to do everything.” He would rather concentrate on mastering light and shadow without the constraint of rules but with the discipline of constant practice and refinement. His vision of art has no rules other than a commitment to a counter-intuitive thought process. “It takes time, and lots of it, to get things as good as they can be,” he says.
With regard to the two pieces presented here, Knight says that he enjoys the controlled-organic nature of collage. The central element of Bumblebee came out of an encyclopedia, he recalls. The arrangement derived from the large size of the image and its odd crop as published. In addition to the clipped images he applies, Knight embellishes his collage with acrylic and watercolor paint. “The organic part, and this might sound trite,” he says, “is that you can fix something if it doesn’t look right. I don’t do that with my drawings.”
The basic concept of To Church evolved from a random sketch while working on another piece, as his ideas often do, Knight muses. “I might start with a foreground image, but I also concentrate on detail in the middle ground and background. That’s important to me because it provides the whole image with a story, albeit what you imagine that story is.”
Of supreme importance, he says, is the title. Knight might find a phrase in something he has read that inspires a work of art. And he reads a lot, from the classics (he just recently finished Othello, again) to comics (he liked the “Dark Knight” reference in the title, above). He might have several titles as he’s working on a piece: paring the title down to two or three words, focusing on his purpose, and, again, being open to the counter-intuitive inspiration. “Lizette might say something offhand that makes me think ‘Oh yeah, that’s right,’ and I’ll go with it,” he says.
Knight recounts that he received a Theresa Pollak print as his award, an object that he particularly values. For their part, Richmond magazine puts particular value in Knight as well, recognizing him “as one whose fine art has enriched the region’s cultural life.”