Painter Ken Knight is a relentless traveller and his striking landscapes depict places as varied as the Swan River, Sydney Harbour, the Pilbara, Venice, and even Antarctica.
Gallows Gallery, Mosman Park, is currently showing a marvellous collection of Ken’s works, which convey his skill capturing colour, structure and the play of light in the landscape.
Following the tradition of Australian icons like Streeton, Roberts, Heysen and McCubbin, the artist has been honing his skills since he was a boy and has mastered the Australian visual narrative.
In his 48-years working as a painter, the Sydney-born artist has staged 80 solo exhibitions and been involved in 75 group exhibitions.
Ken’s work is essentially impressionist in nature, defined by vibrant colour, vigorous wide brush strokes and skilled use of palette knife application.
Within this “framework” of heavier, loose application, he often places small areas of detail, which effectively give some of his works a singular realist-impressionist character. An example of this can be seen in his Waterhole and Sheep piece in the current exhibition.
The artist works quickly, capturing the exact colour and light within a scene before it changes.
And like the great painters mentioned above, he has also mastered the distinctive atmospherics, hues, luminescence, and nuanced shadow and light of our country.
The Swan River and Beyond exhibition was opened by former Rio Tinto CEO, Sam Walsh AO, a longtime fan of Ken’s work.
While heading up Rio, Sam assisted Ken on one of his creative sorties in the north-west, helping him move “about 100 kilos of paints, canvases, board and equipment up to the Pilbara.”
Sam opened his launch speech with a heartfelt recognition of indigenous Australians and said, “We must cherish first nations’ art and culture.”
He added that he felt “sadness and disappointment” at the recent blasting of the Juukan Caves, some of which contained 46,000-year-old art works.
The act of destruction during Rio mining operations in the Pilbara reverberated around the world.
Sam said he has several Ken Knight pieces in his own collection and has always been interested in his projects.
“Walking in here tonight I thought, “Gosh, what a stunning collection!
“I bought my first painting by Ken in 1998 and have collected several more since then.”
When based at Rio’s London HQ, he had one of Ken’s vibrant Australian paintings on the wall in the office. “It was a nice reminder on those grey and rainy London days of sunny and warm places elsewhere,” he laughed.
Sam added to his mounting Knight collection on the night by buying one of the artist’s evocative pieces of Venice.
Ken was unable to attend the exhibition due to current Covid-19 border restrictions, but was piped in via a video from his studio over east.
He explained how he has always painted outdoors and will continued to do so, as it is the only way to truly capture the moment and the look and atmosphere of the scene.
“The plein air approach is the best way to achieve results that have integrity, truth and energy.”
He has certainly stood by his word, having clocked up approximately 1.5 million kms by road seeking working locations for his art work.
He travels with large carrying cases in the back of his Troopy 4WD which he affectionately calls “Coffins”. He even carries his wet paintings in them when still in transit to the next inviting scenery.
Ken’s wife Louise, who has accompanied him to far-flung locations around the world, jokingly says that, if Ken dies first, she is going to play Willy Nelson’s “On the Road Again” at his funeral.
Recently Ken made a trip to Antarctica and is currently working on projects including gum trees and waterholes, both of which he believes are integral to the Australian landscape.
One outstanding feature of Ken’s painting is his brilliant depiction of water, be it the ocean or the still of a billabong. Never easy to convey in paint, Ken has developed a style similar to the French Impressionists where simple colour-drenched vertical and horizontal brush strokes and layers of paint reveal the elusive play of light and tint in the liquid.
But all this takes time, practice, years of observation and trial and error. Ken has been there and done that, and today is doing it as well as any of Australia’s finest.
The Ken Knight Swan River and Beyond exhibition continues at Gallows Gallery until Sunday, 1 November.
53 Glyde St, Mosman Park WA 6012