John Ward Knox

x (life, still. Baby)

2010
oil on calico
650mm x 600mm

signed John Ward Knox, dated 2010 and inscribed X (Life. Still. Baby) in graphite verso

Essay

x (life, still. Baby) is one of a small number of similar works that made up John Ward Knox’s 2010 exhibition welcome home sun (Tim Melville Gallery, Aucklan...

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Estimate $1,500 - $2,500
Achieved $1,610

John Ward Knox

x (life, still. Baby)

2010

oil on calico

signed John Ward Knox, dated 2010 and inscribed X (Life. Still. Baby) in graphite verso

650mm x 600mm

Auction N˚1

Estimate $1,500 - $2,500

Achieved $1,610

welcome home sun

by Francis McWhannell

x (life, still. Baby) is one of a small number of similar works that made up John Ward Knox’s 2010 exhibition welcome home sun (Tim Melville Gallery, Auckland). Likened by the artist to cover versions of songs, the pieces in the show were ostensibly based on photographs, some on images of famous sculptures, such as Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s Rape of Proserpina (1621–2), which became Ward Knox’s x (still, life. Hold), others on photos famous in their own right, like Alvin Langdon Coburn’s Broadway at Night (1913), which became x (life, still. Street). The work being discussed derives from pioneering photographic artist Julia Margaret Cameron’s Prayer and Praise (1865), a moody image generally understood to refer to the Holy Family.

Another artist might have chosen such source material ironically, to burlesque the classical or spiritual, but Ward Knox’s reinterpretations are respectful, even reverent. I imagine him haunting the library or second-hand bookshop, pulling out dusty Phaidon-published volumes on Italian sculpture, and marvelling at the potency not only of the original artworks, but also of their monochromatic reproductions. His works are not so far from academic studies of the sort made on-site in major art institutions—opportunities for Ward Knox to absorb the lessons of the past, as well as to exercise his considerable skills as a draughtsman. It is as if he is reminding us that the old ways can still be good ones.