“New Paintings of Block Island,” Kate Knapp’s new oils-on-canvas, depict her favorite island places caught in those fleeting moments of perception and transferred to canvas through her dynamic brush work and vivid palette. They are on exhibit at the Jessie Edwards Studio on the second floor of the Post Office building from August 3-15, with the opening reception on Saturday, August 4, from 5-7pm.
“Nature is my muse,” Knapp said recently. “And especially the nature of Block Island, particularly the light and water.” (It is a rare Knapp painting that does not have water as a context.) Painted in the fall of 2017 and the spring of this year, most of these scenes are set in the morning or evening light when angles, colors, contours, and shadows are most evident. For example, the mutable quality of light can be seen into views of the bluffs. In “Mohegan Bluffs with Fence,” the foliage, flowers, and clay soils of the bluffs are seen in the morning light, with their warm tones of green, red, pink, and yellow in contrast to the cool blues and whites of the sea and sky. The opposite effect is seen in “Mohegan Bluffs, Late Afternoon Light,” with the bluffs in deep grey shadows while the pink glow of the setting sun lights the sandy beach and spreads across the water and the sky.
Stormy spring days sent Knapp, a plein air artist, inside, but even then, the interior scenes are oriented toward the sea and sky. In “Early Spring Window View” we look out a large window framed by gauzy curtains in tones of white, blue, and purple across a pond to the ocean where the ferry is headed to Point Judith under a grey, rainy sky. The colors of the tall grass and the water repeat the interior colors, merging inside and out. “Stormy Spring Day with Rocker,” painted under the protection of a porch roof, is similar in showing the effect of an overcast sky that casts the rocker, pond, and grasses in deep, subdued colors of magenta, grey, green, and blue in contrast to the pounding white surf of the ocean beyond the dunes.
Knapp’s love of flowers and colorful patterns and her knack for blurring the lines between inside and outside can be seen in her still-lifes of flowers. “Peony Bouquet in Window with Chair” is a brilliant array of peonies, bleeding hearts, honey suckle blossoms and other flowers set on patterned tiles on a table next to a chair with a patterned pillow. The vivid flowers dominate the foreground but also draw our eye outward to the fields, water, and overcast sky. Similarly, in “Bouquets in Window with Small House,” the cobalt blue vase sits in the window filled with a mix of red, pink, and purple blossoms. The green leaves of the flowers merge with the deep green fields outside that roll down to a pale turquoise sea and salmon pink sky. In “Sunflowers on Porch at Sunset,” gold and crimson sunflower heads bob in the light from the sun, which is glimpsed through a window as light yellow and orange swirl, almost eclipsed by the flowers heads in the foreground.
Painting outside gives Knapp both deep satisfaction and delight, but also some challenging moments. “Working in nature means working with nature,” she said. This can mean painting faster, with quick, fluid brush strokes, in changing light to catch “the moment.” When she began “Coast Guard Incoming Tide” the tide was out, but by the time she finished, the water had made its way onto the beach and, therefore, into the painting. Knapp’s fascination with the way light sets off angles and roof lines can be seen in the large canvas (30”x40”) “Dunn’s Cartway Barns.” What we don’t see is Knapp’s agility at retrieving the large canvas after a strong gust of wind lifted it off the easel and slapped it down on the ground.
Knapp’s delight comes in serendipitous moments, such as seeing the harmony between the greens in the gabled roof of the house and the hull of the boat in “Sullivan House and Sailboat.” It also is in her fondness for the “wiggly trees” in “Cooneymus Cottages and Sea”
and in the clothes on the line in “Farm by the Sea, Autumn,” a sweeping view of the farm aglow in orange tones from afternoon light, with a silvery slash of Russian Olive trees on the left and, on the right, the ferry heading north on the clear blue sea. “Afternoon Light on the Water,” another expansive view, is from Knapp’s island home looking across soft green fields to the warm yellow light on the water. It is just one example of what Knapp means when she says “painting is my meditation on Block Island.”