Susan Knight

If there is a word that goes to the heart of Susan Knight’s art work it is ‘pattern’. By definition, a pattern, from the French patron, is a set of recurring motifs, events or objects. It can be a template imposed upon something, or it can arise from within the thing itself.

But there is more to a pattern than form or shape. The French root patron(ne) also refers to the master or mistress of a house, which is particularly fitting, for it is in the intimate realm of the home that Knight’s artwork has its origins. Domestic objects with distinctive patterns – decorations, patchwork, bread tags, furniture, tiles, the clutter of the mantelpiece, stylised natural patterns of flowers and leaves – become the building-blocks of larger forms. Works done at the kitchen table spiral out to embrace the whole world.

For Knight, there is no separating art from life. Home is not only where her art begins and finds inspiration, it is an extension of her practice. She has long been interested in architecture and interior spaces, and has worked with her husband, Trevor Mein, on architectural photography. This professional interest finds personal expression in her treatment of their home as her canvas and their on-going renovations as a work-in-progress.

Out of this preoccupation with the many dimensions of the home came the series of group exhibitions ROOM, each exhibition inspired by the key rooms of a house – the bedroom, the living room, the kitchen. Mundane and potentially kitsch household objects – plastic bread tags, porcelain figurines, the fleur de lys patterns found on old wallpaper – are distilled into abstract shapes and then multiplied, both through repetition and through mirrored surfaces that give them a tantalizing allure. Here we witness the enchantment of the ordinary, like Cinderella’s transformation when she is plucked from the kitchen cinders and dressed for the ball.

This tension between the home and the wider world is another dimension of Knight’s preoccupation with the home and the patterns set down there by family life. Not surprisingly, Knight finds great poignancy in objects expelled from the home: photographs of unwanted furniture sitting on the nature strip become haunting reminders of what was once cherished and loved. At the same time, home is the place from which we contemplate wider horizons, hence the air of longing for something beyond domesticity in her photographs of a horse gazing out a kitchen window.

At its most basic, the home is a box, something that promises to contain and protect us. But what happens when you take apart or flatten out this container? Knight’s many patchwork tiles offer either the illusion of three dimensions or the comfort of quilting, with all the homely associations that go with it, while at the same time bringing these expectations and assumptions into question. When you dismantle the building-blocks of the home, what are you left with?

For the prototypes of all patterns, Knight’s work looks to nature. Her images of foliage and leaf prints take these templates and reconfigure them, render them semi-abstract and so focus our attention not on the original object but on the pattern upon which it is based. By stitching these images and prints together to form new patterns and shapes, the artist takes over from mother nature with her own ‘intelligent design’. Nature’s patterns might be driven by evolutionary imperatives but, as poet Judith Wright observes, Human eyes impose a human pattern, /decipher constellations against featureless dark.

Knight’s deconstruction of the pattern goes even further as she taps into this ‘featureless dark’, exploring life at its most elemental in her stains which loom up like rising damp or resident ghosts through surface patterns and images; or marks emerging from paper like a secret language written in invisible ink. These visceral, subliminal works take us back to the origins of life: the pattern in the process of being born.

Fiona Capp