Critics’ Picks

Silke Otto-Knapp, Single Figure (Yvonne Rainer), 2006, watercolor and gouache on canvas, 16 x 24".

Silke Otto-Knapp, Single Figure (Yvonne Rainer), 2006, watercolor and gouache on canvas, 16 x 24".


Silke Otto-Knapp

Walter Phillips Gallery
107 Tunnel Mountain Drive Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity
July 25–September 27, 2009

Over the past several years, the London-based painter Silke Otto-Knapp has deepened her attention toward the theater and its proscenium, especially as it relates to the historical arc created by its principal players: modernist dancers, choreographers, and set designers. The twelve variously sized easel paintings on view in this exhibition depict elements in motion—alerting viewers to their own more subtle movements.

The paintings take photography as a source and, when perceived from a distance, portray very subtle, luminous figures in poses that emerge from gradations of layered silver watercolor and gouache. Sometimes the subjects appear alone, and in other works as pairs or in groups; the canvases are often redolent of action shots that are turned into production stills. As one moves closer, the surfaces appear to be reinforced by a highly reflective dust, which displaces the urge to give these paintings a literary read. The silver glint of these microscopic light-refracting dots is highly visible under extremely close examination and dramatically changes intensity when viewed at an angle.

In this doubling of the composition’s subject matter, the works’ figure-and-ground relationships appear fleeting. Witnessing this spectral and temporary event feels a bit like calling X-ray images to memory. Figure (half bending), 2008, is a good example of the effort, which reveals a constantly fluctuating scene and raises deep questions of perspicuity. Philosophy—in particular, phenomenology––seems to be central to some of Otto-Knapp’s intentions. When the viewer’s shadow is cast across this resplendent silver plane, the cinereous reflection of the audience becomes oddly welded to the artist’s compositions.