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A Primitive of an Old Way: An Interview with Neo-Baroque Painter Edward Knippers

Bobby Maddex

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Edward Knippers is a world-renowned Neo-Baroque painter whose work has been exhibited widely throughout the United States, including one-man shows at Cheekwood in Nashville, the Virginia Museum in Richmond, and the National Gallery in Washington D.C. His invitational exhibitions include "Setting the Stage" at the Los Angeles County Museum, a four person show of installations, and "Anno Domini: Jesus through the Ages" at the Provincial Museum in Edmonton.

Knippers is perhaps best known for the controversy that his work has engendered. Painting most of his figures in the nude and with all manner of puss-encrusted sore, wound, and gash branding their battered bodies, the 58-year-old artist has seen, and on more than one occasion, his canvases slashed and defaced by vandals who took exception to such vivid depictions of the human form. His work has also been banned from several American museums, a circumstance that might lead one to believe that Knippers dabbles in subject matter of a most provocative and suspect nature. Nothing could be further from the truth. Indeed, this intelligent and gracious artist actually confines his work to exploring Biblical narratives, of all things. Here I talk with Knippers about faith, art, life, and reality.

How would you describe your paintings?

Well, they're growing out of the Baroque tradition. And this is interesting because I was actually taught to dislike Baroque. For my generation, it was too emotional, unmannered, and strange. But once I decided to paint large figurative paintings, I couldn't get around the old Baroque masters. I hope that I'm continuing their tradition into our time. But I would also hope that my paintings are very twentieth century.

Your paintings are indeed passionate--to say the least--and graphic. Why?

A popular religious notion is that the more vague something is, the more spiritual. Hogwash. I think this [knocks on the toolbox on which he is sitting] is more spiritual than vagueness because it's real. God could have created the world in any way, but he chose to do it like this. Therefore, this [knocks again] tells us something about God. A cup on a table has more reality than all of our virtual states. It's wonderful--very human. But we're getting away from that and creating a virtual world. We've begun living in little rooms created by computers. We're afraid to be honest somehow. Perhaps painting can bring us back to the real world.

As for the graphic depiction, what do people expect to see? I could conceivably make them more graphic than they are. Part of art is knowing how far to push viewers so they are forced to deal with the art and are horrified in an appropriate way.

Read the entire article on the Crux Magazine website (new window will open).

Posted: 04-Aug-05

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