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John Ward Knox

John Ward Knox 2018

Artist Profile: John Ward Knox

‘As a traveller at home and abroad I value depth over breadth of experience, chance above planning.’

Written by Joel Thomas.

The most recent work of John Ward Knox is poetically documentarian. Despite finding success making work in a studio, he has abandoned his post for a less stable but more mobile van, which he lives in and uses to travel around Te Wai Pounamu and Dunedin.

We’re all cold, this time of year, but only a few of us are comfortable with this fact. The work of John Ward Knox pulls a strange sense of cosiness out from the barren. He presents life like a small fireplace in an empty room, you can’t help but gather around it.

Ward Knox was born in Auckland, 1984. His work is conceptual and covers a broad selection of media such as installation, video, drawing and sculpture. He studied at Elam School of Fine Arts and graduated with an MFA in 2008. Since graduating, Ward has received the Frances Hodgkins Fellowship, had work exhibited at the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki, Frankfurter Kunstverein, Chartwell Collection, Govett-Brewster Gallery and James Wallace Arts Trust. He has since left the studio life behind in search of the ‘sustenance of chance that so infrequently visits a closed room.’

John Ward Knox’s images observe the way objects interact with spaces. He doesn’t force anything, he just watches with a friendly lens and a warm sense of humour, telling the stories of moments, spaces, and objects that would otherwise go unheard.

His travels are fleeting and spontaneous, he says: ‘if I or some other were to try to follow a map of mine literally, they’d soon find themselves standing at some unrecognised spot, looking about themselves for a sign or symbol of direction which probably doesn’t exist. Here they’d be impelled either to ask a kindness of a stranger or to make their own judgement and follow their nose, which is just perfect.’

Ward Knox places a lot of trust in chance, in the unknown, in other people, and in the world. This trust in chance is a key part of his current process, a process which leads him to find and capture scenarios such as a soy sauce bottle shaped like a fish caught in a cobweb, or a basket fungus tucked beneath the undergrowth.

These images gently remind us of the way human-made objects, like the plastic fish, fall into the environment and will most likely remain there forever. Ward Knox’s candid presentation of this fact reminds us of how normalised this has become. When we see his image of autumn leaves in a crushed cigarette carton we think ‘hah, I’ve seen that before,’ and Ward Knox is subtly reminding us that this is an issue.

John Ward Knox has the knack of telling the story of something we’d otherwise ignore, assigning value to places few of us would venture to, letting us know there’s warmth and joy and value to be found in the coldest, loneliest experiences and places.

Written by Joel Thomas for the Dunedin Art Ache by Candlelight, 21st June 2018.

Artist: John Ward Knox

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With thanks to Ivan Anthony.