Farside Gallery | an alternative project of art@work
August 31 – September 28, 2010
Farside Gallery is proud to announce a solo exhibition of Robert McKnight, one of South Florida’s preeminent sculptors and cultural figures. Titled Edge Hive and curated by poet and critic Ricardo Pau-Llosa, the exhibition consists of fourteen sculptures realized during the last two years. It focuses on McKnight’s innovative use of concrete and tile in conjunction with other media. McKnight also has an extensive body of work in other media, such as wood sculpture and environmental installations. His important artworks in public spaces throughout South Florida, as described in the artist’s bio, attached, have become signature images of the cultural identity of Miami.
In the catalogue text to this exhibition, curator Ricardo Pau-Llosa says:
"The sculptures of Robert McKnight. . . seem to grow from within, built up by an impersonal force into hulks and edges, appearing free from contrivance, style, and the rhetoric of expressivity. Of course, this is a masterfully crafted illusion. McKnight is a consummate artist who focuses on transcending the personal while affirming individuality, conjuring a style in sculptures that seem hewn by necessity rather than utterance. Their surfaces liven with ceramic tiles whose scales and edges transmit the infinite and the singular—a Fibonacci sequence of the oneiric imagination."Pau-Llosa also affirms:
"Tonally, running through all of McKnight’s work is a grappling with time—the millennial processes by which nature’s forms are created contrasted with the mere breath-span of our condition. He entertains at once, in the hives of these edges and hand-petrified shadows, a harem of feelings, a mounding vibrant shrine that mates pleasure with the earth, tomb with eros, and presents us with the grimy concrete of our daily lives bejeweled by the hungriest lights."Robert McKnight was born in Kingstree, SC in 1951 and moved to Miami with his family in 1953. From early childhood he has excelled in art. While attending Killian High School, he studied painting at The Miami Art Center located on Kendall Drive. McKnight went on to study fine arts at Syracuse University, receiving a BFA in Painting in 1974, and as part of his work at Syracuse studied sculpture in London at the Sir John Cass School of Art from 1971-72. Upon his return, he worked at Miami’s Metrozoo as an exhibit designer specializing in the design and construction of the artificial rock facades. Later he worked with Rock & Waterscape Systems of California at Disney World in Orlando and throughout the southeastern United States and the Caribbean. He has always been active in the fine arts, exhibiting extensively throughout South Florida and the southeastern states.
McKnight has realized various major public artworks in Miami: wood collage panels at the North County Health Center (for Metro-Dade Art in Public Spaces); mosaic murals at the Pinnacle Park Apartment Complex (City of Miami Art Advisory Board commission); an environmental work with waterfall, lake, rainforest, and stream, incorporating bird sanctuary and swimming pool for pre-school children, at St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church; a porcelain tile mosaic work at the Little Haiti Cultural Center; and a mosaic mural at the Palmetto Bay Library. His work has had numerous solo exhibitions and has participated in group exhibitions at the Lowe Art Museum (University of Miami), the Miami-Dade College North Campus Art Gallery, the Art Gallery at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Gallery Antigua, Amdalozi Gallery, Green Light Art Space, The Bakehouse Art Complex, Farside Gallery, among others.
As a member of The Miami Black Artist Workshop in the 1970’s and KUUMBA Artist Association, McKnight has worked to generate opportunities for greater professional visibility for African-American and African artist. Says McKnight, “My mission as an artist is to create works that are individual in style and content reflecting my heart and soul, stretching the poetic and artistic license in both material and content.” He has paid inspired and consistent tribute to his cultural heritage in his efforts on behalf of other artists, and he has added to that heritage through the power and originality of his art.
Edge Hive: The Sculptures of Robert McKnight
Of all the arts, sculpture truly is the one most indebted to Modernism. Unlike painting, sculpture had to revolutionize its techniques and not just its focus, themes, and imagery. For example, nothing in painting, not the bidimensionality of Cubism or the startling effects of collage, compares with the liberating and mind-expansive impact which assemblage had on sculpture, freeing it from the exclusivity of chisel and torch. Other liberations of media and method would follow, from the found-object precursor of Conceptualism to Earthworks. And sculpture has a distinct spatial extroversion, even aggressiveness, capable of rivaling or interrogating architecture or nature outdoors, while indoors it has the power to displace a gallery’s center of gravity away from the image-thronged walls simply by standing on its own and compelling orbits of contemplation. As Yeats’ dancer cannot be cleaved from the dance, sculpture, much more than painting, is radiantly one with its medium whose immediacy can never be eclipsed by subject or style. It is the body that denies shelter, the shelter that trumps the finality of flesh. In its ineluctable thingness, sculpture distinguishes itself from the dramaturgy of installations, even though many contemporaries confuse the passion for enduring form with the temporal nature of this splinter form of theater.
No such confusions reign in the distinctive sculptures of Robert McKnight. These works seem to grow from within, built up by an impersonal force into hulks and edges, appearing free from contrivance, style, and the rhetoric of expressivity. Of course, this is a masterfully crafted illusion. McKnight is a consummate artist who focuses on transcending the personal while affirming individuality, conjuring a style in sculptures that seem hewn by necessity rather than utterance. Their surfaces liven with ceramic tiles whose scales and edges transmit the infinite and the singular—a Fibonacci sequence of the oneiric imagination. The multicolored facets shield and bristle, swirl sensuously and resist pattern. The fossil has become a musical instrument; the ancestral effigy has used color to armor itself against erosion. Fracture has become caress; dolmen, mask, beast, and figure dialogue in a ceramic tongue. Found detritus—pipes, wires, glass—gather and dwell. The hive of the sculpture sustains this ecology of forms and surfaces, keys in a three-dimensional keyboard playing a tidal-pool melody that pipes down suddenly so we can hear the real dream playing.
McKnight’s work also plays on all the liberations of medium and form that made sculpture possible in the modern world. Molded concrete sets the hands of fire and clay upon a cold medium which is synonymous with urban ant-hill. The tile-covered surfaces, shoal-like in their shifts and shimmerings, strengthen the link to edifice while scoring affinities with and critical revisions of various landmark styles and images, high to low brow—from Mesoamerican jade masks to Antoni Gaudí, from Gustav Klimt to the Ishtar Gate to the Watts Towers, from Byzantium to the Mayfair in the Grove. In a kind of leap that only a genuine artist can make appear effortless, McKnight
intersects the full arc of the rhetoric of surface, binding and unbinding pleasure and decor, formalist acumen and refractory hedonism. The tiles calm and rise, edging in currents, a fractal sea of inlaid waves that captures the eye and leads it to its aesthetic destination.
It is particularly interesting to see McKnight’s tropological mind at work, especially in the manipulation of referential forms. These seem to grow out of the concept, self-sustained reefs surging into view out of the magma of creative insight. The process opens onto powerful diverse metaphors where simultaneous referents come forward without the hackneyed reduction of Modernism or the contrived accumulation of Postmodernism. The silhouette of the “Apostles” is not a boiled down form of the erect figure or icons but is an assertion of the columnar power and presence which a disciple is imbued with. Each “Apostle” culminates with rods shaped to evoke head and halo while also alluding to strength and the internalized rails on which any life consecrated to a vocation must move. The top-jagged “Effigies” likewise pick up metaphorically on the vertical flat surface of icons to evoke flame and shield, shrine and rampart. “Mankind” appears like a congealed cloud of smoke or cumulus, anviled into a crowning vessel, armored by color, caught in the moment of transformation toward something not yet discernible, a figure perhaps, a mushroom cloud, a three-dimensional shadow of an unconscious that is all too human. “Mockingbird,” the most representational of the pieces in the exhibition, alludes to the Harper Lee novel, but also engages the hiving of form and edges to create a dramatic portrait of a character.
The emotional timbre of the works is also remarkable, for tone does not surrender to formal invention or dazzling tile work. “Atomic Dog” is monumental, as indeed most of these pieces are, a statement that beckons, even within the ruins of ambition, for a complex understanding of the energizing beast that fueled ravenous, nurturing, warm-blooded life. On the other side are the feminine heads McKnight is known for, here represented by “Nubian Profile,” mellifluous in its allusions to landscape, a vertical island that will not give up the siren and the goddess that called it into being. Tonally, running through all of McKnight’s work is a grappling with time—the millennial processes by which nature’s forms are created contrasted with the mere breath-span of our condition. He entertains at once, in the hives of these edges and hand-petrified shadows, a harem of feelings, a mounding vibrant shrine that mates pleasure with the earth, tomb with eros, and presents us with the grimy concrete of our daily lives bejeweled by the hungriest lights.
Read more online:
Las esculturas de Robert McKnight: íconos mágicos envueltos en mosaico
By Carlos M. Luis en El Nuevo Herald.
Sculptor Robert McKnight's "Edge Hive" at Farside Gallery
By Swampdog at Miami New Times