Briefly describe the work you do.
My work depicts patterns of growth and form in nature and examines these patterns from a variety of perceptual levels. Some of my images show biological patterns on the cellular level of organisms. Others reveal natural patterns of the earth’s landscapes. My painting, sculpture, and site-specific installations, through the media of both painting and sculpture, explore dynamic patterns connecting landscapes and life forms, physiology and physics, death and detritus, light and darkness.
My images integrate simple patterns into a more complex unity on a larger scale.
The work comes out of examining and recreating interactions among different levels of life. A basic component of my process involves discovering a pattern that connects discrete elements and enables the creation of a larger unified whole. This process echoes how living cells grow and aggregate overtime with other cells to enable emergence of complex organisms.Revealing life’s rhythms, the work displays the unfolding and undulation of living energy expanding, contracting, and recycling itself through visual patterns.The images in my work also reveal transitions from chaos to order and life to death, sometimes frozen in time.
Tell us about your background and how that has had an influence on your work and on you as an artist.
I grew up in a family intensely focused on observing the natural world of landscapes, flora, fauna, and human geography. My earliest awareness drew my attention to the rhythms and patterns of nature. My early life in the verdant suburbs of St Louis, Missouri was augmented by weekends in the country exploring the woods and farmlands overlooking the Missouri River. Early explorations outside Missouri involved hiking and skiing in the vast landscapes of the American West. My parents shared with me a deep reverence for the natural world and a fascination with naming and appreciating the mysterious patterns of human existence. As my own life unfolds, the organic patterns of the natural world continue to inspire and inform my work.
The concept of the artist studio has a broad range of meanings in contemporary practice. Artists may spend much of their time in the actual studio, or they may spend very little time in it. Tell us about your individual studio practice and how it differs from or is the same as traditional notions of “being in the studio.”
Because my work is very detailed and process oriented, it requires long durations of work in the studio. My energy is revived and sustained by going outside the studio as much as possible to walk, observe, and feel the energy of the natural environment around me. Over the years I continue to evolve a contemplative practice that helps me to sense the energy of life around me and later use this experience as a catalyst for creation of patterns of images in the studio.
What roles do you find yourself playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?
I have come to realize that my work is beginning to dissolve the boundaries between a spiritual practice –meditation, contemplation, revelation– and artistic creation.
When do you find is the best time to make art? Do you set aside a specific time everyday or do you have to work whenever time allows?
I generally starting mid-morning and work into late afternoon, take a break outside and often return to the studio until darkness falls. The best time to make art is when my mind is filled with images from being outside in the natural world.
How has your work changed in the past five years? How is it the same?
The biggest changes in my work have come from collaborations and conversations with friends and other artists. My old friend and fellow artist William Thielen and I collaborate to create outdoor installations that blend together our different approaches and processes. Surprisingly, although our personalities and processes are quite different, we work very well together During the three summers of 2013 through 2015, we have collaborated to make several temporary site-specific out door installations that have expanded my concept of working with nature. While the actual installations are much larger than anything I would construct working alone, the work still springs from a fascination with organic patterns on a variety of scales.
How have people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers, other artists or even pop icons had an impact on the work you do?
Both my parents influenced me profoundly through their sense of wonder, appreciation and respect for natural processes, and their delight in how the visual arts can deepen the human experience of the physical world and its underlying patterns. My father, William S. Knowles, was a Nobel Prize winning chemist for his work on the asymmetric synthesis of organic molecules. His wonderful curiosity and nurturing of my own interest in the visual arts helped affirm my identity as an artist. My mother, Lesley C. Knowles, an immensely literate and sensitive person, helped me understand the importance of experimentation and creative risk taking as both a child and an adult. In different ways, my parents both have helped me cultivate the confidence of an adventurous spirit that balances a natural inclination toward introspection with the desire to create visual images.
Have you ever been pulled in the direction of a pursuit other than being an artist? What are your other interests
The practice of yoga, meditation, and the study of classical mythology and symbolism via Carl Jung and astrology help enable me to discover a bigger, wilder, and more vibrant place for humans in an unfolding universe. These disciplines and studies help inform my work, and most importantly, blend together to inspire a very personal approach to visual expression.
Elizabeth Knowles is a visual artist based in New York, NY and Norfolk, CT. Utilizing a variety of media, her paintings and sculpture reveal both static and dynamic patterns in nature recurring on different scales of perception. Born and raised in the river town of St Louis, MO, Elizabeth earned a BA from Pomona College, in Claremont, CA and an MFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, IL. She recently completed a residency at MASS MoCA in North Adams, MA as part of its “Assets for Artists” program.
Elizabeth’s recent outdoor site-specific projects include installations for Studio 80 +Sculpture Grounds, Old Lyme, CT, The Kingston Biennial, Kingston, NY, “Art in Nature” at the Greenwood Gardens in Short Hills, NJ and “Contemporary Sculpture” at the Chesterwood National Trust for Historic Preservation, Stockbridge, MA. Other projects include site-specific installations for Bank of America Plaza’s Green Exhibit, Charlotte, NC, NYU’s Langone Medical Center, Corridor Gallery, Brooklyn, NY, the Housatonic Museum, Bridgeport, CT, Artspace, New Haven, CT, for the Fountain Art Fair at the 69th Regiment Armory, NY, NY, and outdoor sculpture for Governor’s Island, NY, NY. She has created several art installations for the windows at the Saks Fifth Avenue flagship store pairing her work with Donna Karan, Alexander McQueen, and Issey Miyake. Corporate commissions include site-specific paintings for the Galleon Group, NY, NY, and Enclave Capital, NY, NY. Elizabeth has received numerous awards including grants from the Puffin Foundation, Miami Beach Cultural Council, E. D. Foundation, Artist’s Space, Ludwig Vogelstein Foundation, the Millay Colony, Yaddo, and the Banff Centre.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.