ABOVE Sunset Point: “It is hard to paint a sunset that doesn’t look jarring, but I think I was able to suggest the changing light with the color reflecting off the clouds and water in a way that conveys the sensation.”
Memories are precious commodities. Some people keep journals to recall the goings-on of their daily lives. Others turn to photo albums to preserve moments frozen in time. But not Chris Knight. When he sees a scene he hopes to cherish for years to come, he pulls out his easel and paintbrush. “You’re always trying to get to the essence of what you see, ” Knight shares. “You try to eliminate everything that’s inconsequential and capture the spirit and the emotion of it.”
At a picturesque home right off the main drag of Fairhope, Knight welcomes me into his studio above the garage. The space is small, but with light streaming in from the many windows and paintings resting on bookcases, standing on the floor and hanging from the walls, “small” becomes “cozy.” Besides, he’s not always up here anyway. He’s a plein air painter who takes his tools wherever his travels may drop him. Out there, he gets to capture all of the beautiful intricacies of our world.
“Painting water is the most fun of all, ” he explains. “The way wind and light hit it changes the surface texture. You see how the wind blows across it and changes the direction of the water. It’s always a combination of lights and darks. It’s the little things that make water look like water.”
ABOVE RIGHT Down by the Bay: “I have painted this end of the beach in Fairhope many times, and it is never the same. I guess that is why it is so much fun to paint.”
He started as a watercolor painter, sketching scenes to fill in with the pigment. He says, “As I painted more and more, I gravitated toward oil painting. It’s a lot freer. A lot looser. I found that more to my liking.”
Knight’s style capitalizes on the texture that comes with painting these scenes. “I like paintings that look like paintings, where you can see the energy in the paint and the brushstrokes. It’s realism in the sense that you can recognize that you’re looking into an inlet with the water, but it’s not a photograph. In that sense, it’s very interpretive.”
The texture of the brushstrokes evoke the myriad of real-life textures found in these pictures: the roughness of tree bark, the blurs of leaves and flowers dancing in the wind, the ripples in the water from falling leaves or curious fish. And he knows when to smooth out the textures to create welcoming, serene spaces. These aren’t still photographs; they are alive.
ABOVE White Hydrangeas: “My wife and I were hiking in the U.K. summer before last, and we were staying in the most picturesque village in the Cotswolds. I came upon this cottage with this exuberant garden and thought it would make a nice little painting. I wish we had more buildings like this one in Alabama. The old world charm is really hard to beat.”
Greens and blues and grays dominate his portfolio, but the occasional pop of color surprises as much as it delights. “White Hydrangeas, ” above, sticks to the main color palette, while adding in a splash of pink and smears of coral. In “Birds on a Wire, ” below left, a dirt road leads the viewer to a vibrant blue shed.
Throughout the studio, Knight has proudly displayed his favorite moments that he’s painted. But on the wall right next to the door hangs an image not made by his own hand. It’s the only piece of art in the place that he didn’t create himself. So I ask: Whose painting is this?
“I have no idea who painted that!” he exclaims with a hearty laugh. “It’s a reproduction of a historic painting that was done of the old bay boat that used to sail from Fairhope to Mobile, back before the Causeway or bridge. It’s part of the history of the town.”
It’s fitting that this lone foreign image — a watercolor — hangs among Knight’s depictions of Baldwin County. His paintings, too, are pieces of Baldwin history. Or, at least, moments and memories within it.
ABOVE LEFT Birds on a Wire: “In this part of the world, there are a lot of red dirt roads with old farm buildings, utility poles and beautiful meadows. Just a little piece of Baldwin County that we all love and don’t want to see disappear.”
ABOVE RIGHT Fly Creek Marina: “This is the first look you get of the Bay when you arrive in Fairhope. It captures the spirit of the town, a beautiful village by the Bay.”
Explore Chris Knight's stunning work in person at the Eastern Shore Art Center from October 6 – 28.
text by Chelsea Adams • photos by Jennie Tewell