Elizabeth Knowles is a New York City visual artist who express herself through paintings, sculptures and installations, with the objective to reveal the life force of nature through visual patterns. Her approach is inspired by science which has identified biological patterns on the cellular level of organisms for example. She has currently an colorful and intricate installation in the Prow Art Space of the Flatiron Building curated by Cheryl McGinnis Projects which evoques the complexity of the universe surrounding us. Her work invites us to pause for a moment to think about all the things we can’t see with our owns eyes, what we know about organisms, nature and the things we don’t know yet…
A little bit about yourself: what led you to choose an artistic career? When did you settle in NY?
In college, I loved taking art history and studio art classes but I thought I should study something more practical like law. Pomona College offered me the opportunity to study with Karl Benjamin, a prominent hard-edge colorist, and David Rubin, a curator and art historian. The more exposure I had to the creative tools of art making and to contemporary art books such as Robert Pincus Witten’s POSTMINIMALISM, the more I couldn’t pull myself away. The light installation interventionist, James Turrell had just purchased the property for his crater that became his life’s work when he came to lecture our class. I was blown away by the infinitude of his visual language. My passion for the visual arts quickly consumed any desire for living the practical life. There was no turning back.
My first incarnation in NYC was right after graduate school. Empire State College had a residency program for young artists on the Lower East Side. I fell in love with NYC and its immense cultural and artistic diversity. I knew I had to come back. In 2000 I moved to NYC permanently.
What led you to create works inspired by scientific knowledge?
I have always been interested in how patterns in nature replicate on a variety of levels. Microscopic patterns can resemble natural patterns on the human scale and on the planetary scale. An irregular or fragmented configuration can be repeated over and over again with each part containing the same structure as the whole. These similar configurations that recur progressively in smaller scales can describe seemingly random phenomena such as crystal growth or the formation of galaxies.
You express yourself in different medium: painting, sculpture, installations. How do they complete each others?
I utilize a variety of media on many different scales to reference nature replicating itself on a variety of levels. Whether I am creating paintings, installations or sculpture, I work with individual components made up of even smaller components and group them together to form a larger series. Starting with the simplest patterns and building to the more complex, my process becomes a recreation of the interaction between different levels of life. One basic component such as a circle, a dot of paint, or a linear strip of wire, connects with another and another and another until a whole is created. This action is similar to a cell grouping together with other cells to form a more intricate organism.
Who are your favorite artists or influencers?
My favorite artists/ influencers are Eva Hesse, Yayoi Kusama, James Turrell, Karl Benjamin, Alan Saret, Louise Bourgeois, and the list could go on and on………
Tell us about your current installation in the Flatiron building: how did this project come to life?
Cheryl McGinnis Projects has been curating amazing installations at the Prow Art Space of the Flatiron Building for the past several years. I met Cheryl at an opening last year and a few weeks later when she came to my studio, we kicked around some installation ideas for the unique architecture of the Prow Space. I wanted to explore how dynamic patterns connect landscapes with life forms by juxtaposing rocks jutting up from the floor with biological structures whirling down. Ultimately it became about invigorating the space with that spark of energy that creates connection.
What is your dream project?
My dream project is to create a site specific installation in the high desert of Joshua Tree National Park in California with thousands of painted rocks cascading playfully across the rugged landscape.
Do you have an anecdote that you’d like to share?
An interesting anecdote comes to mind. It happened when I was creating a temporary outdoor site specific installation on Governors Island, NY. The sculptural construction consisted of a very large crescent shaped mound of individually painted rocks. To my surprise, for the duration of the exhibition, the installation became an interactive site. Some people lifted or moved the rocks while others added their own painted rocks to the mix. Every time I went back to see the piece, it kept changing every so slightly in shape, color and form. It certainly taught me that we cannot control how people may react to our work nor can we hold on to what we put out into the world.
What is the question you’re asked you the most?
The first question I always get asked is how long did it take you to make this? This is followed by what materials are you using?
What is the question you’d like to be asked? Can you create this in my living space?
What are your projects for the coming months?
I am creating a site specific installation consisting of cut and sewn x-rays for Spotlight on Montefiore, a rotating exhibition program in May/June featuring Radiology/Radiation-Oncology at Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx. In July my work will be featured in the Hamptons Market Art and Design Fair at the Bridgehampton Museum, Bridgehampton, NY.