New Aldrich exhibition unveils Redding resident’s signature symbolism

RIDGEFIELD — Instead of picking German, which was spoken by her parents growing up, Karla Knight created her own visual language that has since become the taproot of her work as an artist.

Knight, a longtime Redding resident, recently debuted her first solo exhibition at The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum. “Karla Knight: Navigator” is now on display through May 8.

“I have a funny relationship to language,” said Knight, who grew up in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y.

Knight’s parents presented a dichotomy in natures. Her German-born mother, Gisella, who served as mayor of Dobbs Ferry in the mid-80’s, was a part of what she described as the “outer world.” Her father, David, a writer on esoteric subjects and a student of metaphysics, inspired Knight to explore beyond the physical world and instilled in her an understanding of things relating to spirit and the occult.

“I really grew up with a lot of oddness,” Knight said. “A lot of acceptance of a soul beyond the physical body … and a lot of interest in alternative realities.”

Thus her work has reflected many of these ideas, feelings and experiences. “It’s more soul-level and intuitive … (and) very much about the unknown,” she said. “I don’t try to explain it or decipher it.”

Amy Smith-Stewart, a senior curator with the museum, was struck when she first came across Knight’s work.

“The very first works by Karla I encountered were square, eye-catching color pencil and graphite drawings that swirled edge to edge with mysterious indecipherable code, celestial shapes, astronomical symbols and space traveling objects,” she said, noting that the papyrus-like paper used reminded her of a recovered treasure map.

“Spending serious time with this work you start to recognize Knight’s unlimited sight vision,” she added. “These works are journeys, beaming us to deep space and higher realms — but isn’t that what far-sighted art should do?”

Knight attended the Rhode Island School of Design and settled in the East Village in the early 1980s, where she was part of New York City’s alternative art scene. In the ‘90s she went to live in New Mexico, which had a key impact on her work, as did the birth of her son, Henry.

As she watched him learn how to read, Knight was inspired to create a new written language that is still a mystery to her in terms of what it means, she said. Although the conglomeration of symbols pepper her work, she explained they are not intended to convey any specific meanings or messages.

“It’s basically channeled,” she said. “The more I can’t explain my work, I think the more it succeeds.”

Smith-Stewart said the levels of mystery that surround Knight’s art are part of what makes it so engaging. “This is not only Knight’s very first institutional exhibition, but also surveys more than 35 years of work focusing on the development of her far-seeing language,” she said.

In tandem with the Aldrich exhibition, Knight is also creating tapestries that combine unique, repurposed materials with her signature symbolism. The show, Smith-Stewart said, “debuts an entirely new direction in her practice ... so there is certainly a lot to get excited about.”

“For me the exhibit is really interesting because it traces sort of pictorial and linguistic languages that she’s been working on for a long time in her career,” said Aldrich Director of Marketing and Communications Emily Devoe. She noted that Knight’s deep roots in the area also make for a unique viewing experience.

For Knight, the chance to show at the museum is a great opportunity.

“It’s a thrill,” she said. “It’s a dream come true for any artist, I would say.”

For more information on “Karla Knight: Navigator,” visit thealdrich.org.