CYNTHIA KNOTT has always been fascinated by the water, but her passion for the Lowcountry’s waterways grew when she moved to Hilton Head.
“The Lowcountry’s got me in awe,” she muses.
The New York native’s large-scale encaustic paintings capture the horizon lines of the region’s most beautiful waterways, from Ossabaw Island to Beaufort and everywhere in between. Her newest body of work, “Enchanted by the Sea” hangs at the Grand Bohemian Gallery at the Mansion on Forsyth until April 14.
“When I first established myself as a painter, I was painting landscape and seascapes. There are so many genre painters already, so I needed to find something that would set me apart,” Knott remembers. “I started seeking out the horizon line, and Dan Flavin popped into my head.”
Flavin, a fellow New York artist, worked in fluorescent lighting, and the brightness of his work inspired Knott to use bright lines for her horizon.
“The horizon line doesn’t really exist, but it does,” says Knott. “I wanted to show them as like a neon lit-up thing like Dan Flavin does. Artists are known by their mark, so that’s what I wanted to become my mark.”
Before the horizon line is added, Knott’s paintings appear abstract. The line orients the painting, and her meticulous attention to detail makes the paintings all the more complex.
“I’m not using any landmarks like an actual beach or a boat,” she notes. “I use a compositional device called the reverse axial shift, where I’m bringing things to a point and then pushing them back out. I also studied space and plasticity by Hans Hofmann, in ‘Search for the Real and Other Essays,’ and that’s about pushing and pulling shapes and space and making them recede. Those two things allow me to play with space while having more volume to it. There’s such vast distance.”
She points to “Surge,” one of the collection’s pieces, as her example for the reverse axial shift. The painting’s horizon line blends into the green of the grass.
“Vermeer did this a lot, where he didn’t paint a line but put two bodies of paint together, and that came together to make the line,” Knott explains.
Knott works in cold wax encaustic, done with wax, varnishes and pigment to create a painting rich in texture.
“There’s a skin of memory that tells the story of the painting. It has all this stuff,” Knott explains, running her hand over the painting. “Surfaces are really amazing and so many times make the painting. When you scrape the painting, you’re scraping memory and process. It leads you into it as you’re painting—it’s a mystery. There’s a lot of putting on and a lot of taking off. My floors are a mess.”
Some of Knott’s newest works are paintings framed in convex glass, one in a Civil War-era frame she found at Starlandia.
“Nobody’s doing anything like this,” she says. “I kept seeing a seascape in the frame. I repurposed it with the idea that something can be stored in our memory that we’ve seen before—something old, something memorable.”