Born in 1937 and raised in Brooklyn, Michigan and Chicago provided experiences of both urban and rural settings which inspired his drawing and painting at a young age. Son of a Lutheran Pastor they frequently moved to different parishes however his father always encouraged his artistic exploration even in the backseat of the family car on trips out east.
From this point, The University of Iowa provided him with painting and printmaking coursework. Mauricio Lasansky, one of the finest engravers during the 60s, provided the critical instruction which led to John’s passionate interest in the process and unique media of engraving. From this point the process of printmaking and his interest in color through painting became a major focus
in his artistic expression. Commenting on this he explained that printmaking informed his creative direction in painting. Finally, in 1963 he earned his M aster of Fine Arts in Printmaking and Painting as well as a Minor in Art History.
As an educator working with students provided lively interactions which inspired him towards a teaching career. From 1963-1964 he taught Art Classes at West Elementary School and also became an adjunct faculty member at Silvermine College of Art in New Canaan, Connecticut. He returned to the Chicago area to teach art at Mount Prospect High School.
In 1967, Harper College was being built in Palatine so he applied and became the very first professor hired to the college. He was instrumental in developing the fine arts department, The National Juried Exhibition and the Foundation Art Collection. Knudsen also had a profound impact on his students during his successful teaching career and maintained a prolific artistic practice. His tenure that lasted 31 years until 1998. In 1974, probably the single most important influence during his career was when he was a awarded a sabbatical to study with Stanley William Hayter at Atelier 17 in Paris.
After retiring he devoted his time exploring his creativity through painting, etching and woodcut media at his gallery, The John A. Knudsen Workshop/Gallery in Union Pier, Michigan from 1993 until his death in 2014.
During the month of September, 2015, John was honored with a retrospective showing of his work at Harper College in Palatine.
An appreciation by Thomas Cvikota
In honor of the late professor John Knudsen, I would like to offer a perspective on his printed works; a selection of lithographs, woodcuts, etchings and engravings are included in this exhibition. My remarks and observations are informed by my 40-year history as a student of print and as a student of John’s some 40 years ago.
John’s extraordinary talent as a maker of prints rivals his gifts as a painter. I contend that the prints on view are a priori to the paintings. Not to suggest that his paintings are alternatives to his prints, but rather that the prints and their technical virtuosity inform his brushwork, composition and the spatial language within the paintings. If you compare the density of information found in both the paintings and the prints, you will begin to notice a visual syntax they share, almost literal examples of this.
It’s no surprise to find that John was an avid collector and aficionado of fine rugs and woven textiles. So much so that he could make an example (rug) that experts found convincing, if not perfect.
We may now know the inspiration john’s eye found in his passion for rug.However, the figurative subject matter of his art is at the core of his Intention: to depict the human condition as a flawd, riotous pattern. He focused on the urban environment, with its dense topography and primary palette, and rendered it as a metaphor, a pattern. At first glance it may seem that he rendered it brick by brick, line by line as a facsimile. Yet, if you look closer in the larger cityscape paintings, and even less in the engravings of the same subject. Our eyes read these pictures as an overall pattern, and then rest by focusing on isolated passages to find the threads of a story(line). In the prints, sometimes the smallest statement is the most grand. It is in the minutiae; that is where the big picture is revealed.
Prints are fundamentally about minutiae. John’s prints contain many tour-de-force passages of subtle chiaro-scuro, engraved line and aquatint. This technical facility was a by-product of his education as a student of the late Argentinean master of intaglio printmaking, Mauricio Lasansky, Lasansky taught John at the University of Iowa, in the first studio program in the United States to offer a Masters of Fine ARts in printmaking and the understanding that it is a noble and valued endeavor. As John’s student, I was taught in the same way - to learn from the tradition of print, and then take it somewhere new and express a personal vision.
Pay particular attention to the chronology of the prints. You can see the evolution of his particular style. Along the way we find references to the engraved lines of Durer, the drypoints of Picasso, the ragged, carved wood excavations in a Gauguin, the delicate etched lines and aquatints of Chagall, and the wandering lithographic line and forms of Dubuffet. In the end all I see is the phenomenal talent of John Knudsen. That is the ultimate goal of any artist seeking truth and personal clarity with his art.
In summation, my short education with John left me with a perspective on print and what a real artist can do with the print processes. John always insisted on making art in a context of tradition. With this exhibition you will experience a small sampling of his humanity and talent. Harper College, the institution where John established a tradition of excellence and taught so many, has now brought his genius back home in thes much deserved tribute. Those who knew him are grateful for the opportunity to sing his praises and remember him so fondly.
Thomas Cvikota is a contemporary art consultant, publisher and owner of ETC Industries - C. Editions.
Sebastian (Self Portrait of Artist), Lithography, 13 x 17”, E 8/9 1974)