Michael A. Knutson demonstrates his artistic technique at his studio in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Michael A. Knutson demonstrates his artistic technique at his studio in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Artist’s creative journey leads to Black Lab Gallery exhibit

Michael A. Knutson’s year in isolation at a remote cabin in Maine inspired many of his paintings.

Artist Michael A. Knutson hasn’t been one to stay in a place very long.

“I just felt like if I wanted to be an American painter and artist, I should probably go out and get into America,” the peripatetic artist said. “If I’m going to paint something I saw, that means I have to live a pretty interesting life. I have to get out of the four square walls of the studio and see things.”

Flash back to 2005. Knutson moved from Seattle to the East Coast. He had little money, few possessions and just a loose plan for exhibiting his work. But the following two years would be some of the most formative in his career.

“It was just this sprawling, long, vast journey of learning new techniques and new ways of thinking,” said Knutson, who has a studio in Everett.

Knutson’s works from the past 20 years — including surreal paintings inspired by living in an isolated cabin in Eastport, Maine — will be on display through July 15 at Black Lab Gallery in Everett. All of his paintings are tied to poems Knutson wrote to give more insight into each piece.

On Thursday, Black Lab also will be hosting performances by King Mammoth, Oliver Elf Army, Sleepover Club and Wimps as part of the Fisherman’s Village Music Festival.

Two racks of paintbrushes and art notes hang on a wall in Knutson’s studio. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Two racks of paintbrushes and art notes hang on a wall in Knutson’s studio. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

One of Knutson’s paintings on display is “Tigers and Tigerettes,” which depicts a beach at sunrise near his cabin in Maine that blend colors of pink, blue, orange and brown. The painting’s soothing scene is in contrast to what Knutson was experiencing at the time he created it. He was surviving off mussels he found along the rocky shore after spending all his money on rent and art supplies.

His isolation, as well as his choice to live off the land, fed into his creative process.

“A lot of the pieces are really vast atmospheres that portray a lone object, whether it be an animal or a tree,” said Knutson, who returned to Seattle in 2007. “There will be a giant 7-foot canvas with one little minnow. I try to get isolation into my work.”

Knutson — not to be confused with artist and Reed College art professor Michael Knutson, who was born in Everett in 1951 — spent most of his childhood in Port Townsend. He studied English at the University of Washington before enlisting in the Marine Corps in 1994.

Knutson uses a sharpened coffee stirrer to make a detailed stroke on a painting. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Knutson uses a sharpened coffee stirrer to make a detailed stroke on a painting. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

While serving in the military, Knutson taught himself to paint. He was inspired by visits to the National Mall, the Hirshhorn Museum and the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. He was especially struck by a painting by abstract expressionist Franz Kline.

“All the pieces fell together in that moment,” Knutson said.

After his enlistment, Knutson returned to Seattle in 1999 and worked alongside a collective of photographers, filmmakers and writers known as The Soma Group, who often criticized his work harshly but taught him to believe in what he was creating.

Evan Thompson: 425-339-3427, ethompson@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @ByEvanThompson.

If you go

“Michael A. Knutson: A Retrospective” is on display through July 15 at Black Lab Gallery, 1618 Hewitt Ave., Everett.

The gallery is open from 4 to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Call 425-512-9476 or go to www.makpaintings.com for more information.

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