Silke Otto-Knapp, a painter whose muted watercolors often depict landscapes and dancers, has died aged 52, according to her Regen Projects gallery in Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Times reported that Otto-Knapp had battled ovarian cancer.
Otto-Knapp’s works have been seen widely in venues across Europe and the United States, as well as biennials such as Made in LA at the Hammer Museum, São Paulo Biennial, and Liverpool Biennial. A personal exhibition of hers will open this month at the Buchholz Gallery in New York, which also represents her; another will appear in November at Casa Mutina Milano in Italy.
His paintings frequently alluded to similarities between creating visual art and dance, with experimental choreography from the Judson Dance Theatre, Yvonne Rainer and the Ballet Russe acting as his inspirations. She relied on watercolour, which she used quite differently from what is traditional for this medium.
She made an early decision to avoid painting in watercolor on paper because she felt it was too “illustrative,” as she said in an interview last year. Instead, she paints on canvas, a medium more commonly identified with oil paint. And, while watercolor usually bears strong evidence of the painter’s hand, with ink strokes that are individualized, Otto-Knapp’s work was done at a cooler indentation, with no easily visible brushstrokes. .
In a 2017 review of an Otto-Knapp exhibition at the Mary Boone Gallery in New York, the New York Times‘s Jason Farago wrote that his art could be compared to the paintings of Marlene Dumas and Luc Tuymans, who also work in a figurative mode and with a pale color palette. But, Farago said, “Ms. Otto-Knapp is an emotionally more complex artist than these dark artists. The subdued beauty of his paintings fits better with the laconic poetry of Louise Glück or the stripped records of Radiohead.
Otto-Knapp was born in 1970 in Osnabrück, Germany, and was based in various locations in London, Vienna and Los Angeles. She earned an MA from Chelsea College of Art and Design, as well as a degree in Cultural Studies from the University of Hildesheim.
His groundbreaking works from the early 2000s are watercolors based on ready-made photographs. Most of the source images were found by Otto-Knapp, although some of them were taken by the artist herself. In these works, the landscapes are painted in a fluid way, so that they dissolve into abstraction.
For her paintings of dancers, she continued to draw inspiration from photographic images, but she moved away from her sources. The performers are recognizable in his work, but if they are depicted, they can only be seen halfway, which sometimes makes the figures appear ghostly. Sometimes, with the greyish hues, the paintings even appear silvery, as if bathed in moonlight – an effect heightened by the way Otto-Knapp’s figures move in and out of focus, depending on location. where the viewer stands in relation to one of his paintings.
“Evoking dance scenes and figures but radically altering and destabilizing them through his monochrome watercolor technique,” critic Tom Holert wrote in art forum“it extends the ongoing and unresolved relationship of dance and the visual arts.”
She also made forays into the well-established genre of portraiture, photographing people like artists Emily Carr and Florine Stettheimer. When these women were portrayed by Otto-Knapp, they had no recognizable features. “I call them portraits, but they don’t have faces,” she told the Globe and Mail in 2015, the same year, she had a mid-career retrospective at the Art Gallery of Ontario.
Otto-Knapp’s work currently resides in the holdings of this museum, as well as the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Tate Modern in London, the Art Institute of Chicago, and more.
In some of her recent exhibitions, she had begun to push the theatrical elements of her painting even further, showing them on freestanding walls that made the canvases look like backdrops. She described this choice as part of an attempt to relate her work to the exhibition space in which it takes place.
“Otto-Knapp has made an indelible impact through his singular work as an artist,” Regen Projects said in a statement. “Her generosity as a friend, mentor, colleague and teacher was deeply felt by all who met her.”