An Outsider’s Precision
Jon Knott, a connoisseur of stones, creates his own mystique, as he’s homeless and lives in a tent in an undisclosed area in the Cornish countryside. This calm, gentle-spoken man has a unique view of the world from his living quarters, which is reflected in his artwork. Rain or shine, though it is very often rain in Cornwall, he meticulously draws stones, taking hours to draw even one, being gifted with infinite patience and time. By living in a tent, he has contact with the land and an affinity with nature that is his major purpose. He lives the life of an outsider, which echoes in some respects the aesthetics of Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore.
I found his work at the Redwing Gallery in Penzance and became curious about these drawings of stones in black and white. At first look they appear insignificant and drab, mostly grey, almost monotonous. Looking at them again, and then again, there is an attraction for their intricate simplicity – intricate because the drawings are quite complex, while appearing ridiculously simple because they only represent stones. However, these stones speak; looking at them, one can become mesmerized, but also attracted by these series of stones, like a rhythm of stones. This repetition of the same image – just doing a dot with a circle, while allowing for where the light’s sitting, is completed with a bit of shadow at the end, giving the stones a 3-D look.
Jon sees magic and beauty in stones, stones we trample on or throw into the sea. Has he perhaps been trampled on or thrown somewhere? I wonder. He gives life to stones and an innermost meaning to them; it seems to be what William Wordsworth describes in his poem:
To every natural form, rock, fruits, or flower,
Even the loose stones that cover the highway,
I gave a moral life: I saw them feel,
Or linked them to some feeling: the great mass
Lay bedded in a quickening soul, and all
That I beheld respired with inward meaning.
Jon is fascinated by the sphere, the circle, with the universe’s ultimate perfect shape; for him everything seems to be perceived as spherical or sphere-like. He sees this from the atoms to the plants to the stars. Having endless time on his hands, he finds that a lot of work in the art world is very haste driven, having to be finished in one sitting. Instead, he likes to take a little more time (I would say a lot more) to create his works. Drawing all depends on the quantity of light he has available. His studio can be inside his tent lit by a head torch, in the local library, at the Breadline soup kitchen, at the Redwing Gallery, but most of all is outdoors in the parks on park benches when the weather is agreeable. When working outside the weather is as much a problem for him as the insects landing on his drawings. Though he has been drawing all his life, now in his fifties, it is thanks to his joining Roaming, the Breadline art group, that he has started exhibiting again.
What is his message? Knott has given up on the art world, as many artists have, saying it’s too commercial and finds the culture of the world disappointing, though he is by no means a negative person. With so many people creating works, he sees the artworld like a closed shop that is a difficult arena to make any headway or a living in. He sees galleries like politicians trying to get artists and buyers together. He believes we’ve corrupted the illusion of our own culture and the genetic pool has been trashed, that it’s not possible to subjugate generations of citizens without damaging the gene pool. He finds it’s not surprising that generations of English workers are disaffected due to persistent austerity, one government after another justifying austerity. He also believes the mental health issues that dominate our culture are due to the treatment of the general population. Most of the people who go to the local soup kitchen are of the Thatcherite era, all struggling due to prolonged government policy.
Jon Knott, serene and focused on his work, asks for nothing more than to continue drawing, with an inner energy that inspires him to go on. I have rarely seen an artist so passionate and dedicated to his work. Does this man hold some sort of secret about life that most of us don’t know?
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Pendery Weekes, Managing Editor, UK.
Volume 33.no.1 September / October 2018 pp 30-31
Stones from a Tent, Jon Knott, Redwing Gallery, Penzance, Cornwall 15 – 24 June 2018
2 thoughts on “An Outsider’s Precision”
Jon Knott’s reflection on how a lot of work in the art world is haste driven is a very perceptive analysis of the actual situation today. He’s right, and it takes a homeless man who has all the time in the world to see this. It is perhaps why the art world is stagnant and not offering much of anything new, just a redo of what has already been done and overdone in the past. We no longer are able to take the time to be just artists as we focus on producing for the next show or buyer, but this goes on into all areas of our lives. It makes me wonder what it must be like to be homeless, to no longer have the responsibility or burden of a house, a family, bills, a job. Though it must be a very hard life living in a tent, especially in the winter, the sense of freedom and the opportunity to have time to just be an artist and nothing else must also be fantastic.
His reference to the light he has available makes me imagine a very positive person. The weavers of the 1600s chose Cornwall for their place of work for the quantity of light available there; I wonder if he chose Cornwall to live in for this same reason, since he, too, cannot depend on artificial lighting.
Thank you Pendery for an inspiring review of Jon Knott’s drawings, the humanness, struggle, inspiration and energy behind this artist’s work is rarely encountered in the art world. As a homeless man, Knott’s drawings are solid objects which reflect the natural world in myriad ways. I look forward to viewing his work hopefully at another Redwing exhibition.