BAHM: 2.15.17 Gwendolyn Knight
Gwendolyn Knight is an important, albeit overlooked figural painter and sculptor working during the Harlem Renaissance. Born in 1913 in Barbados, she moved to Harlem in 1926. After a short stint at Howard University, Knight went to work in the studio of sculptor Augusta Savage, where she was introduced to a number of prominent artists and writers of the Harlem Renaissance, including Langston Hughes, Ralph Ellison, Romare Bearden and Charles Alston. In the mid-1930s she joined the WPA’s Fine Art Program, assisting Alston when she met her future husband and notable painter, Jacob Lawrence. Knight taught informal dance classes at Black Mountain College in 1946 and at the Martha Graham dance studio in New York in 50’s before settling in Seattle to teach at University of Washington from 1971. Her first solo exhibition was at the Seattle Art Museum in 1976.
Knight, interested in early modernist styles and painters like Georgia O’Keefe, preferred more figural compositions to the Abstract Expressionism style of the time. Her use of color represents a distinct difference between the works of other Harlem Renaissance painters and recalls Fauvist and German Expressionist influences as well. Her work also differed from some of the more well known work produced during the Harlem Renaissance by painters like Bearden and Lawrence that were heavily involved with the narrative depiction of black history and culture. In contrast, her work focused on the personal and emotional aspects of her life while later works show an interest in movement and improvisation. A monograph of her work was published in 2003, titled, Never Late for Heaven: The Art of Gwen Knight, for a retrospective exhibition at the Tacoma Art Museum and DC Moore Gallery in NYC.