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On Wanting to Grow Horns: The Little Theatre of Tom Knechtel

July 12 through September 21, 2003


On Wanting to Grow Horns: The Little Theatre of Tom Knechtel is a mid-career survey spanning three decades of the Los Angeles artist's work. With a flurry of activity and exquisite detail, Knechtel invites the viewer to step up for a closer look at his imaginary landscapes. His various inspirations range from puppet shows, Kabuki theatre, fairy tales, and zoological prints, to the work of earlier artists such as William Blake and Hieronymus Bosch. In his idiosyncratic paintings and drawings he transforms the refinement of Renaissance "realism"---with its passion for both nature and the allegorical---into modern existential struggles and celebrations. Knechtel's province has been the grotesque and the ravishing, the intimate and the spectacular, the jubilant and the melancholic. His is a literary, poetic consciousness filled with the stuff of language: metaphor, rhyme, character and narrative. But as a visual artist, he is equally in love with formal values, the raw material of paint and the rigors of scrupulous technique. On Wanting to Grow Horns: The Little Theatre of Tom Knechtel is on view in the North Galleries of the Henry Art Gallery from July 12 through September 21, 2003.

Known for a technical virtuosity and for the range of his works on paper, Knechtel has explored the media of watercolor, gouache, pastel, charcoal, silverpoint, graphite, and ink, in each case keeping a pure relationship between method and mark-making. In 1985, he began to paint in oils in a desire to loosen up his precise and meticulous technique. The phantasmagoric works that resulted set forth intricate and meandering narratives, which delight the viewer with a labyrinth of private fantasy and stylized, colorful spectacle. Knechtel's work is shameless in its exploration of the sensory pleasure of art. With exquisite detail and exuberant strokes, Knechtel creates works that appeal to both the eye and to the literate mind. "I suppose that I am not nervous about my love of literary contentbecause it's balanced by the intense pleasure I get from the physical language of paint, the visceral form of the material even when it's not engaged in representation."

Knechtel's love of theatre (Theatre du Soleil, Kabuki, wrestling, puppetry, circuses and masks) carries over into his work. He uses his art as theatrical venue, populated by a host of imaginary actors, in which he can express his love of the fantastic and the allegorical. "The theatre which draws me towards it is based on an interaction between the desire to suspend disbelief, the need to communicate and how temporal and impermanent that transaction is."

On Wanting to Grow Horns: The Little Theater of Tom Knechtel was curated by Anne Ayres, organized by the Ben Maltz Gallery at Otis College of Art and Design, Los Angeles, and initiated and Sponsored by the Fellows of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. The exhibition is organized for the Henry Art Gallery by Chief Curator Elizabeth Brown.


In Conjunction with the exhibition:

Artist Lecture: Theater and Embarrassment, Tom Knechtel, exhibiting artist, Thursday, July 17, 7:00 pm, Free, Henry Auditorium.

Los Angeles artist Tom Knechtel explores the ways different forms of theatre (puppetry, the circus, Indian kathakali or Japanese kabuki) have influenced his work, and how embarrassment becomes a means of digging deeper into idiosyncratic content and unexpected forms. He surveys his recent work and joins Henry Chief Curator Elizabeth Brown in conversation, followed by questions from the audience.


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