Monday, December 3, 2012

Along The Way You Get Brave

Bronze by Bill Knight, A Wintry View of Marquand, Missouri from The Gallery

What a blast the forty or so art revelers that gathered Saturday afternoon at The Gallery in Marquand had celebrating the opening of Angela and Bill Knight's sculpture exhibit—Carved in Stone. It was a rare chance to experience world class museum-quality artworks in an intimate setting, and spend an early December afternoon in brilliant and invigorating company. Juli Von Zur Muehlen of Jewett said it best: “I'm here because I love art, I love my friends, and I love my friends who are artists. And... also the stone—the smoothness, the permanence, the organic-ness and the sculptures' not-so-subtle sexual messages...Angela, the feminine, Bill, the masculine, each artist only ever portraying themselves.”

 Adam in Cast Resin by Angela Hunter Knight

Having spoken at length with Bill about his work with indigenous stones—"relics prospected from the Missouri landscape"—earlier this year, it was my turn to have a tête-à-tête with Angela. Readers of The Madison County Crier may remember Angela's stirring and soaring words to last year's graduating class at Crossroads College Prep in Issue 3.5 (p. 11): With Humility All Things Are Possible. In the cozy inner salon redolent of hot apple cider, we stole a few moments to sit side-by-side on the chintz sofa to talk about what we both love best: ART.

FM: When did you begin sculpting?

Angela Hunter Knight: I began sculpting in earnest when I began teaching; if you want to teach sculpture you should do it. I'd studied sculpture at Fontbonne under Rudy Torrini—a whole community of artists were taught by him. The other impetus was Bill; he was having such a good time sculpting, I took a stab at it. The challenge attracted me, it seemed a new way to draw but in three dimensions. At a professional development course in Marble, Colorado, I attempted my first large-scale carving. In eight days I finished roughing out a 300-pound sculpture.

A Venus by Angela Hunter Knight

FM: How is that you came to focus on Venus?

Angela Hunter Knight: In many ways I am a Classicist, and I enjoy the many characters of Venus. I attribute to her a joyous, even whimsical persona. I show her in various states of womanhood. I hope to redefine her, I've enjoyed messing with her—exposing the parts of her that are teasing, playful, that exhibit reckless abandon. Breaking her out of a box that history has put her in. That's not fair, she needs to be set free!

FM: Can you please talk a bit about your process, how you approach a new work; and if it has, how it has changed over time?

Angela Hunter Knight: In the past I started with drawing, then created a maquette, and then proceeded to the stone. Now I'm starting with the stone, then I do a drawing, and finally the maquette. It's a different process of discovery—finding the way, instead of knowing the way. A means of trusting your instincts more. I've become more confident about carving, handling the materials, the tools. There's so much to learn about what each tool does. Errors are okay. I look for the errors, you're forced to make a decision. For instance after working on one of my Venus pieces, I discovered a huge crack all the way in.

FM: What did you do, Angela?

Angela Hunter Knight: I decided to take a hammer to it and break it along the crack. Part of the work is finished, polished, and part is unfinished. When I looked at the result I thought that's perfect! In sculpture there's a constant conversation with the materials.

FM: I got a chance to take in the Federico Barocci exhibit last week at the St. Louis Art Museum and loved how each painting was hung in a constellation of its studies, shining a curatorial light on process and the revelation of Barocci's choices: hand up, hand down, foot turned in or out. I suppose those choices are even more stark and immediate in sculpture...?

Angela Hunter Knight: Yes! At the Barocci exhibit I barely glanced at the paintings, but the drawings blew me away. During the Renaissance, paper was at a premium. He used every square inch of it, and his sense of composition is extraordinary.

In Colorado I thought I can't do this, it's too hard, I'll never be able to do this. Day One, I was crying, facing something that I knew was the most difficult thing, wondering maybe I wasn't cut out for it. But then I started chopping, drawing, selecting a strategy, grinding, and I found out, along the way you get brave. By Day Two I saw I was getting somewhere. I'm very organized. I never stop one day unless I know where I'm going to start the next day. 

Strange Fruit

I work mostly on large pieces in Colorado Yule marble. It's very fine-grained, crystalline, with great luminosity. It's honest in its workability, you can get along with it, you know what to expect. Other pieces are carved from alabaster. Strange Fruit for instance, which is not a reference to the Billy Holiday song; it's based on an avocado, much more literal. If you look at it from the side it looks like an avocado, if you look at it from the front/back, like a female. It's very colorful and I love it for that reason. White outside, tawny inside.

For small-scale works there are tools that we use, industrial tools. Large pieces are so physical, you're using your whole body when you work, and I like using my whole body. With small pieces, you're using your hands. I don't micro as well as I macro. I connect smaller pieces to writing. Sometimes, however, a small piece manages to have a great presence; that's where I'm going next.

Photo by Russ Middleton

FM: What advice do you have for novice sculptors?

Angela Hunter Knight: Don't kid yourself: there will be tears. You will lose your fingerprints; you have to be strong both physically and mentally, but don't give up. It is hard, there's nothing easy about it. I have an inner need, I have to do sculpture to sustain me, I'm always making art. When I retire from teaching, in my grand finale, my grand design is to always find myself there, creating. But it has to work organically with everything else I do—my horses, the dogs, running.

Bill and Angela Knight, Photo by Russ Middleton
 FM: What are you working on right now?

Angela Hunter Knight: A model for a metal sculpture; it's an abstraction of herons. A commissioned piece for the garden at the school where I teach.

Art lover and maker Norah Von Zur Muehlen, age 8, holding one of Bill's pieces. Behind her is Venus Whimsy, her sister Ellen's favorite piece in the show. When I asked Ellen, age 15, why that was, she replied: "It appeals to the same part of me that enjoys daydreams, or reading fantasy fiction novels."

I asked Norah to please ask Angela one final question, and she kindly agreed.

Norah: Angela, where do you get the ideas to make your stuff?

Angela Hunter Knight: I'm a thematic person. A theme is like an umbrella, it covers a lot of things, the figure and the abstraction of the figure. My Venus series, for instance, which grows progressively more abstract. My first Venus was Rational Venus, she was based on ideal beauty, the next was Venus of Mirth, then Venus Whimsy, and so on...After spending all this time with Venus, now I need a new umbrella!

Carved in Stone will be on display throughout December and January, 2013. The address of The Gallery is 101 East Pinckney Street in Marquand, Missouri 63655 (just off Whitener Street behind The Reagan Hotel.) The Gallery's hours are Friday, Saturday and Sunday: 12-5 pm. Or call Dorothy Kelley at 573-783-5609 for other showing times by appointment.

Bill Knight and Marquand vintner Jay Hansmann holding a piece by Bill. Jay is owner of Durso Hills Winery where we all repaired after the opening for a fabulous post-gallery repast. We couldn't help ourselves, we ordered a second bottle of the oaky Norton 2005 with dinner!