John Knuth 5 Car Garage / Los Angeles

September 25, 2014

John Knuth finds beauty at the edge of panic. Made with signal flares, emergency blankets, smoke and fire, his work plays its haunting cords as the Titanic sinks. Though originally from Minnesota, Knuth fits nicely into the disaster mentality of Los Angeles, an earthquake-prone city that seems to delight in picturing itself at the edge of doom.

At 5 Car Garage, Knuth staged what could have been two very good solo shows together in one space. In part of the installation, he shows his fly paintings, large canvases made (literally) by the death of flies that ingest paint and sugar and then eject the paint onto the surface. Knuth’s flies cannot help but be sincere and earnest in the life and death Knuth sets for them, and there is great beauty in the brief (though total) gesture of their lives. The metaphor stretches from the small to the heavens: the surface of a Knuth can imagine the life and death of limitless stars living and dying in what to our eyes seems like an instant.

The fly paintings are interspersed with a new body of work, a number of Mylar blankets stretched so tight on supports as to give them a clean, unblemished mirrored surface. Knuth then uses the heat from signal flares to melt a bit of the Mylar, which subsequently splits open to leave a Lucio Fontana slash of lightning on the surface. As California Light and Space art is seamless and liminal, an apparitional presence as fleeting as it is gorgeous, Knuth’s Mylar paintings properly extend the tradition, as the icecaps melt and seas rise.

Apart from each other, the two bodies of work are individually strong, but one wishes Knuth would have left them that way. Together, they are collectively weakened, watered down by each other. What a glory it would have been, for instance, for 5 Car Garage’s two large doors to shine a midday light on a wall of simply Mylar paintings, complete with their forbidding splits, a Robert Irwin piece for the end of the world.

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