Cynthia Knott

Savannah, GA

Cynthia Knott on her works

oil painting of wave
Wave 2016 mixed media on linen 40 x 74 in.

"I first began to concentrate on the sea after moving to Eastern Long Island in 1989. Though there is a long history of landscape and genre painting on Long Island, I quickly realized that what I wanted to paint was just the sea and not the surrounding landscape. I was most drawn to the effects of light on the water and the surrounding atmosphere. Painting on site by the sea in the tradition of “au plein air” enables me to observe nature at moments of sublime drama.

I find that using encaustics (a wax-based medium) enables me to achieve the transparency, atmosphere, and lightness that I seek. The encaustic mixture is layered onto the support with palette knives and then scraped off. Once dry, this procedure is repeated until I can sense what I call a 'breathing action' in the painting, a certain interaction of the surface and the paint. I can build up a density of layers and the wax helps to create transparencies and resonance from within.

seascape oil painting
celebration 2022, oil,encaustic on wood panel, 11 x 22 in.

The horizon line is an important element in my work. It is constantly changing as the day goes by — sunlight can cause it to go from silver to gold to blue or black, or it can totally disappear in the fog of a storm.

Fixing the exact point of the horizon line gives my paintings their essence and its final placement is one of the last things decided. In my paintings, I am not trying to capture an exact moment in time. I prefer to work when conditions are changing, the transition times of day into night, storm into the clearing and vice versa. The use of encaustics enables me to transfer this mutability into the works themselves and the finished paintings keep changing constantly with the shifting light of various times of the day."

On Cynthia Knott works

evening seascape
Sea of Love, 1992, oil on linen, 58 x 78 in.
Permanent collection, Ships of the Sea Museum, Savannah, Ga.
You hunt the skies with a brush! And the black sea.

Poet Billy Collins

Sea of Love

It is almost impossible for people of a certain age to hear the title “Sea of Love” and not think of the famous Phil Phillips ballad of 1959, “Come with me my love to the sea, the sea of love….” The song is a tender, nostalgic recitation of romanticism that makes you want to rest your head on someone’s shoulder during a slow dance.

Knott’s Sea of Love is also, in-part, a recitation of romanticism. At first glance it is a tender gaze of love and prayers borrowed from the great Dutch Masters of landscape painting. For Sea of Love, Knott implements traditional copper marine paint to create a complex, rich, ethereal surface which one could easily getlost in. The surface, however, is also covered in tar. Yes, tar. This is where Knott detaches us from the slow dance.

On 24 March 1989, the Exxon Valdez ran aground in Prince William Sound, Alaska, spilling 11 million gallons of oil into the sensitive environment. It was the second largest environmental disaster in U.S. history. The pristine environment of Prince William Sound was transmuted into an other-worldly abyss layered in black stickiness. Thousands of maritime mammals were killed from the oil spill along with an estimated 250,000 sea birds. In the years following, Exxon fought to reduce its culpability through the court system. Eventually it was reduced, significantly.

Memorably, responsibility was accounted for by the hundreds of volunteers who worked tirelessly to save the affected sea life by gently washing their oil coated bodies in dish soap. It was a profound manifestation of love which Knott expresses through a heart-shaped embracement of the canvas, cleared of tar. A voice for nature and accountability. So, come with me to the Sea of Love and remember that love isn’t a continuous slow dance. But it always takes heart.

Wendy Melton, 2018
Interim Executive Director and Curator of Exhibits and Education
Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum, Savannah, Georgia

About Cynthia

vogue portraiton ladder
l-r: Cynthia, Vogue, 1992; Installation, Ships of the Sea Museum 2018.