Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Carl Knickerbocker - Suburban Primitive

I bumped into Carl Knickerbocker at an art opening at the Peacock Room, we started talking art and I asked him if he would mind if I visited his studio and sketched him at work on one of his larger canvases. He told me he had a canvas ready and planned to paint the Annie Feiffer Chapel which is at the Florida Southern College in Lakeland. He suggested I should get there myself someday to do a sketch. Frank Loyd Wright had designed the chapel and he personally supervised its construction. Students from the college who Wright referred to as "Children of the Sun" had helped in the buildings construction.
Carl lives out on the East side of town in Oviedo. When I drove up to his home I knew I was in the right place because one of his Honda Element Art cars was parked on the front lawn. The second I walked through the front door I knew I was in the home of a serious working artist. The living room was used as a storage space for Carl's huge canvases. Rather than having them stretched, Carl had a seamstress sew loops on the tops of the canvases so that they can easily be hung like curtains.
His studio is located right off the living room in a sun porch. Most of the painting was complete. He just had a few oranges that he wanted to add to the painting as I watched. He used a large painters palette to lay out the pure florescent orange acrylics. He quickly used a palette knife to lay in the color with bold strokes. He then used a hair dryer to dry the paint a bit. He then re-attacked the surface with the knife to get the impasto texture he was looking for. Carl decided he didn't like the color of Frank Loyd Wrights building so he changed it to a cool blue. He was infatuated with the red steps which lead into the building and these became a very important pyramid shaped element in the final composition. He felt that the building resembled a UFO and so he had it floating above a black ground into which are scratched two Gator-Men.
I asked him how he first came up with the idea of using 3D glasses to see his work and he told me about an artist names Key Scramble Campbell who was a bit of a hippy and a psychedelic artist. Campbell had done his painting to be seen with a black light and he also experimented with the 3D glasses. Carl bought 60 3D glasses for his show at the Museum of Florida Art. This show exhibited many of Carl's larger pieces. One painting of Mermaids of Wicki Wachi, is stunning when viewed with the glasses. The mermaids seem to float above a sea of deep blue pigment as if you were seeing down to the bottom of a pool of water.
On shelves next to me while I sketches were a bunch of objects which were used in the making of a 6 minute short film called "A Dog Goes From Here to There." Heather Henson was pivotal in suggesting Carl make this film so she could have it shown in her Handmade Puppet Dreams Film Festival. Carl's bold painterly style is used as the basis for this amazing short. This film was first shown in NYC on December 6th of last year. It had since made its way around the film festival circuits, including Providence, Atalanta and Prague. Carl said he will submit the film in a few more festivals this year.
Carl showed me around his home and when he opened the door to what was once a guest doom, I saw hundreds of paintings stacked against the walls. He has enough inventory to fill the Menello Museum several times over. He said that now that he is getting older he is focusing more on exhibiting his work in large museums. He recognizes that as he gets older these large paintings will become harder and harder to do. He is racing against time to make his mark. As I got ready to leave, He gave me a car magnet of one of his Crocodile-Men. I now proudly exhibit it on the back of my truck. When viewed with 3D glasses the painting floats magically.

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