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Review: blending nostalgic and naturalistic

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Striking watercolours: one of Charles Knights’s depictions of Front Street in the early evening light. (Photograph by Nick Silk)

Charles Knights’s solo show, Around the Island, at the Rick Faries Gallery at Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art comprises 28 small- to medium-sized watercolours in a style that blends the nostalgic with naturalistic.

He cites Chris Marson and Bermuda’s plein air group as major inspirations, but the paintings show an artist at ease with his own style.

There are three paintings depicting Front Street looking west in the early evening light. Front Street No 2 sees the edges of the foreground building and roadside dissolve as detail is subtracted.

He uses the traffic lights and vehicle stoplights as visual punctuation — points of red arranged in the middle distance — to stop the eye and transition it through and across the picture. It is a device he uses well in two scenes.

The choice to accentuate the background tower of the Chubb building by making it relatively closer than real life causes some confusion in the reading of the iconic street.

Knights’s journey through the island takes him inevitably to St George — so often the inspiration for artists. Here he produces some strong paintings, particularly exemplified by Blockade Alley.

His well-executed pictures of depth and colour contain intricately-shaped patterns of light and shade; so distinctive of his style and intent. The narrow lane is lit at the midpoint by a shaft of sunlight from the right and extends across to banana plants in a well-worked passage of painting.

Corkscrew Hill is another fine example of light and movement — Knights’s undoubted strength. The wonderful interplay of darks and lights of a walled lane carries shadow as it gently but decisively draws the viewer to its centre.

It is this mode of painting that shows the artist at his most confident, partly because he is not as tentative in his use of colour. The result is a painting that seems to pulse and vibrate with movement.

There are times where his paintings could be strengthened. Greater opacity through the choice of a denser pigment or a modification of tone would add a desired solidity to the volumes and textures he otherwise describes well.

Because Knights’s work never looks forced and possesses a spontaneous line, his fine drawing ability might be overlooked but it is a key element to his painting success.

It is a draftsmanship evident nowhere more so than with his St George’s pictures. There is a definite naturalistic nod towards to the well-known Bermuda paintings of Ogden Pleissner and Winslow Homer in Washing Day, St George’s and Looking towards Granaway Deep, respectively.

In the former he brings the traditional depiction of a St George’s cottage up to date with the inclusion of the outdoor gas bottles.

Knights often uses utility poles — and the myriad directional lines they offer — for maximum compositional benefit. It keeps to an honest representation of the scene but their inclusion is never overstated. The enjoyable exhibition demonstrates an inspired artist growing in accomplishment. The paintings are effectively priced and are framed beautifully too. It runs until June 1.

Par-la-Ville Road on Sunday by Charles Knights. (Photograph by Nick Silk)
Blockade Alley by Charles Knights. (Photograph by Nick Silk)