Dorothy Knowles: Watercolour Portraits of Saskatchewan

3 May 2008 – 1 September 2008

Dorothy Knowles Sketching Afternoon, 1992

Dorothy Knowles Sketching Afternoon, 1992

If the landscape of Saskatchewan were to have an official portrait artist, a leading candidate would have to be Dorothy Knowles. Few artists have spent as much time crisscrossing the face of the province capturing the varied aspects of the “land of living skies.” Like the artistic pioneers Augustus Kenderdine and Ernest Lindner, she has spent countless hours contemplating the lakes which sit like pocket mirrors amidst the forests of the north. And like her predecessors James Henderson and Inglis Sheldon-Williams, she has also taken to the plains of the south, surveying the grass and low bush contours of its coulees and bloughs.

In a remarkable act of generosity, Knowles has recently donated to the MacKenzie Art Gallery some twenty watercolour and acrylic on paper works which take as their primary subject the Saskatchewan landscape. These watercolours, which form the basis of this exhibition, recall the ongoing relationship between Knowles and the Gallery, a relationship which goes back over thirty-five years to the first purchase of her watercolours in 1972. This relationship was cemented in 2000 when she donated to the Gallery a significant selection of her oil and acrylic paintings, making the MacKenzie one of the major holders of her works.

The watercolours in this exhibition date from two years of prolific activity, 1985 and 1992. The earlier works are marked by transparent washes highlighted with bright splashes of colour. Landscape takes on the quality of a luminous veil, as in Crocus in Early Spring, where each brushstroke sets off a ripple of corresponding colour harmonies. In a number of the later works, Knowles returns to a favourite device — washes of colour applied over an underlying graphite or charcoal drawing, a technique which lends greater structure to her compositions, as in Lavender Ditch. In other works, Knowles uses acrylic, sometimes diluted to the consistency of watercolour while at other times opaque and assertive like gouache. These contrasting paint qualities allow Knowles to create dramatic disjunctions between sky and land as inSketching Afternoon. Among both the earlier and later works are examples of how Knowles has investigated particular sites, such as Emma Lake, through multiple images, an aspect of her working method which this extensive donation helps to illustrate.

Knowles’ watercolours are not preparatory works or sketches, but finished pieces that merit the same attention accorded to her canvases. Deft and assured in their brushwork and colour choice, they stand as masterful topographic portraits in a medium which is ideally suited to the light-filled Saskatchewan landscape.


Dorothy Knowles
Sketching Afternoon, 1992
acrylic on paper
57.6 x 76.7 cm
Collection of the MacKenzie Art Gallery, gift of the Artist

Organized by the MacKenzie Art Gallery with the support of the Canada Council for the Arts, the Saskatchewan Arts Board and the City of Regina Arts Commission.