Thomas McKnight is an artist somewhat out of sync with his times. Born in Lawrence, Kansas, in 1941, by generation he should have been an early pop artist or a late neo-expressionist. But he came of age artistically during the 1970s, when art had practically done itself in with minimalism and conceptual experimentation. His work, full of color and image, seems to be a reaction to that gray decade.
McKnight discovered art at about thirteen when his mother gave him a set of oil paints, and his first painting--a snowy castle on a hill--was not unlike some of those he still creates. When he was sixteen, McKnight's choice of career was confirmed by the famous designer and art director of Harper's Bazaar, Alexey Brodovitch, who told him that he "had it."
After growing up in various suburbs of Washington, D.C., Montreal, and New York, he attended Wesleyan University, a small liberal arts college in Middletown, Connecticut, where he was one of only five art majors. Perhaps this fostered his independent, even eccentric, approach to the art "isms" of his time. He spent his junior year in Paris where he developed a lifelong love of European civilization. After a year of graduate work in art history at Columbia University, McKnight decided against pusuing a career as an art professor or curator. In 1964 he found a job at Time magazine where he would work for eight years, interrupted by a two-year stint in the army in Korea. McKnight held many jobs at Time, beginning as a file clerk and ending by writing advertising copy.
During a vacation in Greece in 1970, McKnight realized that life in a corporation was not for him. He had been reviewing art for a radio program around that same time, and it became clear to him that the art currently popular was not his cup of tea either. Two years later, with the cushion of his profit-sharing plan, he left Time, summered on the Greek island of Mykonos, and commenced painting in earnest.
His work began to sell, although slowly, in America and Germany. In the early 1980's he discovered a larger audience by creating limited edition serigraph prints. By then he had found that, for his work, the silkscreen technique was a natural choice--its brilliant colors and clean shapes echoed his own visions.
In 1979 in Mykonos, McKnight finally met the muse he had been searching for in Renate, a vacationing Austrian student. The couple married the following year and Renate moved to America.
Throughout the 1980's McKnight's art became increasingly popular, and by the end of the decade he was at the top of his field: four books (including one in Japanese) were devoted to his work, and hundreds of silkscreen editions sold. His art was perhaps even more well-known in Japan, where he was commissioned to paint a series of views of Kobe for the city's 1993 fair.
Today, McKnight and his wife live in Palm Beach, Florida, in a Mediterranean-style house surrounding a courtyard garden filled with tropical flowers and a fountain. His happiest hours are spent in his tower studio, creating a steady stream of pictures of imaginary and real Arcadias. The search is never ending--there is always another vision to capture that might be better than the last.
Thomas McKnight's biography is reprinted courtesy of the book Voyage to Paradise: A Visual Odyssey by the artist with text by Annie Gottlieb.
OTHER WORKS BY THE ARTISTFour sceens from Thomas McKnight's collection, "Nantucket," include:
1996 Holiday Card
1996 White House Holiday Card
President and First Lady | Vice President and Mrs. Gore
Record of Progress | The Briefing Room
Gateway to Government | Contacting the White House | White House for Kids
White House History | White House Tours | Help
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