Michael Knutson

Portland, Oregon, USA

Over the past thirty years I have been intent on wedding structure and gesture through various permutations of geometric abstraction. Sixteen years ago the geometry settled into a cubic lattice, a “baby block” pattern like those found on quilts and tile floors, but the cubes in those paintings were eccentric, warping, expanding and contracting, and interlacing. Nine years ago I began draping the cubic lattices over concentric circles, ovals and spirals (coils), the latter of which continue to underlie my paintings to the present. The coils channel the cubic fields radially, cyclically and asymmetrically, creating a sensation of perpetual motion. Some of the recent paintings contain multiple overlapping or convoluted coils, which appear in the finished works to be less like armatures than disturbances, ruptured topography or elusive gestures like wind or rippling water across the field. These paintings embody my conflicting desires for order (every inch of the surface is mapped, every shape is set solidly in the pattern like a brick in a wall), and slipperiness (each shape is unique, skewed, teetering). There are no horizontals or verticals in these works to provide the viewer visual stability.

Although it is often assumed that the paintings are based on complex mathematics, the six-sided “honeycomb” pattern that comes from extending the cube out into a field is actually quite simple geometry. Nor are the paintings computer generated. I make rough preliminary sketches of how the spirals will brush against the edges, but the drawing, a process of triangulating between sweeps of the spiral and further subdivisions that lead down to the cubic grid, is worked out directly on each painting. The paintings’ resemblances to psychedelic spider webs, molecular or cosmic systems, or structures proposed by theoretical physics (fractals, string theory, etc.), are not uninteresting to me, but I’m not illustrating these either. I’ll admit that the paintings can be a bit overwhelming at first encounter, but after one picks up on one of the ways to negotiate across them (crossing staircases or twisted ribbons, fields of tangent six-point stars, inter-nesting hexagonal lattices of various colors, etc.), or pulls in close to inspect the absurd microscopic intricacy near their centers to find their surfaces are surprisingly tactile and painterly (not apparent in reproduction), they start to become aesthetically accessible.

contact & information

more information about the artist
Reed College, Portland, Oregon

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