Although finished works in their own right, these prints can also be thought of as working models for larger paintings or three-dimensional objects. Knowles overriding concerns were with form, dimension and space, and he realized his works through the application of various systems to a set of ideas, what he called ‘artform concepts’. Knowles often used the same concept, expressed in a combination of forms, to make works in different materials and on different scales, sometimes making work specific to a particular site. S.157iv.01 2002 (Tate P78738) for example, uses similar forms to those in the installation, D.156iv.01/02 2001-2 (National Gallery of Prague).
Despite a large gap in his career (a studio fire in 1973 destroyed much of his work, and Knowles did not exhibit again until 1997), his work in the later period of his life shows a remarkable consistency to his early works. Knowles worked exclusively on non-figurative abstractions. In both his two-dimensional and sculptural work, he arranged or configured geometrical shapes (circles, triangles, etc.) and blocks of colour to explore phenomena such as symmetrical modularity, repetition and the use of space. From early in his career, Knowles developed his two-dimensional paintings into meticulously arranged sculptural forms, utilizing materials like resin or fibreglass, as in Two Resin Panels with Black (and Space) 1968-75 (Tate T01982). For Knowles, the principal form of his work was the idea or concept, to which the materials used to realize the idea (whether canvas and paint, enamel, concrete, glass, steel, or marble, etc.) had a simply functional purpose.
These screenprints were adapted from drawings Knowles originally made as preparatory studies for his sculpture, but which he also considers separate works. Knowles referred to these pencil and oil-based crayon drawings as ‘abstract-figurative’ works, as they were inspired by landscape and other figurative sources. Each work is composed of a number of black lines which overlap and intersect to define different box-like forms. In this work, four lines are positioned to form a rough square at the top of the page. The lines overlap at each corner except on the bottom right where they form a perfect right angle.
Despite the apparently systematic nature of his working methods, his rigorous repetition and unrelenting use of geometry, Knowles acknowledges that his primary interest is in the forms themselves. As he says:
‘I’m subjective, I’m not rational. People have often asked me whether I’m into mathematics, if I’m interested in systematics and stuff like that. And I’m not... My mind’s totally visual.’ (Quoted in Justin Knowles, 2002, p.19)
Each print is produced in an edition of seven. The prints in Tate’s collection are unnumbered artist’s proofs.
Justin Knowles, Beyond Systems: Artform Concepts 1967-1998, exhibition catalogue, The Dartington Arts Gallery, Devon, 1998.
Justin Knowles, exhibition catalogue, National Technical Museum, Prague, 2002.
Justin Knowles: new work, exhibition catalogue, Austin/Desmond Fine Art, London, 2002.