Pretty Boys

Kris Knight’s paint­ings won’t give up their se­crets

The Walrus - - ARTS & CULTURE - By Sasha Chapin

Toronto artist Kris Knight paints beau­ti­ful an­drog­y­nous men in a soft pas­tel pal­ette that’s mixed with patches of greyer hues rem­i­nis­cent of de­cay. His works could eas­ily de­scend into schlock, be­cause they’re al­most too at­trac­tive. But they evoke a slight un­ease that saves them from be­ing sac­cha­rine — a hint of the sin­is­ter. His sub­jects of­ten look away, like chil­dren ashamed of be­ing caught in a lie. Some stare you down like cornered foxes. Some wear tiaras of melt­ing can­dles. It’s pret­ti­ness with nerve.

Knight is the most cel­e­brated mem­ber of a young Toronto crew that’s cre­at­ing com­pelling por­trai­ture in a dig­i­tal age. He’s just now, at thirty-five, achieved aself­sus­tain­ing art ca­reer — he no longer works in a Mex­i­can restau­rant or at an eye­wear bou­tique. Last year, he showed his work in Paris, San Fran­cisco, and Toronto, and at Mi­ami’s Art Basel. A year be­fore, he had a break­out mo­ment when Gucci tapped him to paint a mu­tated ver­sion of the brand’s clas­sic flo­ral print that Vogue ed­i­tor-in-chief Anna Win­tour would later wear. In De­cem­ber, for the first time in about a decade, he took a few weeks off. (A self- de­scribed worka­holic, he spent much of the time clean­ing his apart­ment.) Now he’s back in the stu­dio, pre­par­ing for yet an­other high-pro­file show — this one in Paris — which means he’s star­ing at can­vas four­teen hours a day.

De­spite the suc­cess, Knight is a grounded guy. He apol­o­gized, be­fore our in­ter­view, for be­ing a ner­vous per­son. He an­swers ques­tions care­fully, as if smooth­ing out the wrin­kles of his anx­ious thoughts. He’s been pur­su­ing his craft since he was four or five and early on chose to paint faces ex­clu­sively. “They’re the only things I’m in­spired by,” he says.

As a child, Knight was ob­sessed with the guil­lo­tine scenes in Napoleon and Josephine , a late-’80s TV minis­eries. His colours come from watch­ing his baker mother ice cakes, but also from the gaudy por­trai­ture of the French Revo­lu­tion. He at­tended high school in Rich­town, On­tario, and his teenage years were filled with clos­eted boys he covertly dated in south­west­ern towns around Wind­sor: “We would have re­la­tion­ships in the shad­ows — we’d meet up in forests, we’d meet up in fields, we’d take bus trips — and it was all about be­ing a teenager and hav­ing early loves, but all through lies and se­crets.” Out of a com­bi­na­tion of these young lovers, cakes, and ex­e­cu­tions emerges an un­set­tling har­mony of sex, in­dul­gence, and fore­bod­ing.

At nine­teen, Knight moved from Wind­sor to Toronto, where he at­tended OCAD Uni­ver­sity. There, his style evolved from a vivid comic-book pal­ette to a del­i­cate, be­guil­ing coun­ter­poise. But his core ob­ses­sion — the eerie-pretty sub­ject — re­mained the same. He paints mostly on small can­vases he holds on his lap. He’s of­ten work­ing on six at a time: while the oil dries on one waif ’s cheek­bones, he’s il­lu­mi­nat­ing the eyes of an­other. He cuts much of his work to rib­bons with a ra­zor af­ter he de­cides it’s not good enough. “When I’m paint­ing for a long time,” he says, “I for­get that I’m paint­ing, and that’s when I start day­dream­ing. My brain is just a syn­the­sis of fan­tasy and mem­ory — I’m think­ing about all these sto­ries, and those sto­ries turn into these paint­ings.”

Kris Knight’s Pansy (2015)

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.