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With their sense of impending motion, Silke Otto-Knapp’s paintings have elicited numerous allusions to dance—a reference the artist has encouraged over the past two decades via her employ of iconic postmodern choreographic works as source material. In this latest show by the German-born, L.A.-based painter, three large multi-panel grayscale watercolor paintings occupy stand-alone walls at Regen Projects, surrounded by six coastline landscapes on the gallery’s perimeter. Otto-Knapp’s spare figural tableaux suggest Judson Dance Theater’s more restrained, Minimalist-inflected choreography (for example, Yvonne Rainer’s Trio A, 1966, which the painter has worked from previously). Otto-Knapp is interested in the exchanges between body and space, approaching those topics with a draftsman’s will to capture and crystallize.
The process by which these paintings are constructed is as precise as their subject matter is ambiguous: Otto-Knapp works from watercolor studies (two of which are on view adjacent to the larger works), which she then translates to canvas via a signature reductive process in which pigments are applied and then alternately blotted away and added back over time. The resulting paintings reverberate with an internal energy. The triptych Formation (2019) features a quartet of dancers in its left panel, while the right two panels depict the same seated figure: her outstretched arms in the far right-right panel extend into the central canvas, where her pose is replicated amid those of other dancers. This work might be viewed in a similar way as one watches a dance ensemble, the eye oscillating between an individual performer and then back to the group.
Otto-Knapp’s dancers are presented featureless and in silhouette—as if lit by blinding stage lights—so as to emphasize the outlines of their suspended bodies against the canvases’ white or black grounds. Meanwhile, her landscapes—voluptuously suggestive inlets, grounded by far-off horizon lines—reference abstracted limbs, like bent legs peeking out from bath water. (Land and Sea [Island], 2019, is particularly reminiscent of the alien contours of partially-submerged limbs.) One senses that these abstract depictions of coast and islands bear a fidelity to the contours of their sources akin to that of their figural counterparts. Both figures and landscapes give the impression of an ephemeral moment captured as neither eye nor camera can, signaling a pregnant stillness already about to break.
Silke Otto-Knapp: Land and Sea runs from February 23–March 30, 2019 at Regen Projects, Los Angeles (6750 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90038).