There's a strong feminine tradition running through Hannah Knox's work. First, this 35-year-old graduate of the Royal College of Art use textiles as a base on which to paint and stitch. Also, many of her references point to personal, political and sociological influences rooted in the world of fashion and of modern-day feminism. Knox was part of a counter-cultural movement in the 1990s in which young teenage girls in London self-published fanzines and flyposters, daubed emblems and slogans on walls in that "riots not diets" kind of way. This background is evident, for example, in Third Wave Riot (below), a series of lines on a cotton mix that owes much to Sonia Delaunay and Barbara Hepworth. There's a rupture, a deliberate misalignment in the stitching as if they have been put through a photocopier: a kind of agitprop undermining of authority.
Knox is steeped in contemporary art's history of painting and draws on the techniques of the 1960s in particular. The stitching and the idea of best dresses and tradition in terms of fabric is very feminine. Her mother was a fashion designer and that has spurred her interest in female representation through fashion. She uses primary colours, from pink linen to pewter PVC and her works are folded, stitched, sprayed and draped. She describes this as painting in the buff, hence the exhibition's title, but as well as referring to the body, the term also refers to rubbing something so much that it reveals something else, surfaces that are seductive yet deceptive.
Fall 13 (above) is a good example of this. From a distance you'd think it was painted on silk such is the softness of the effect. It's a play on words. The title is a fashion term reflecting seasonal changes. The effect is enhanced by the impression of falling leaves. Yet close up, you see that the fabric used is in fact a wool and cashmere mix resembling creased flesh and matted animal fur. Once again, there is a contrast between reality and effect. This piece was inspired by the Laurie Anderson song Catching and Falling - the idea that walking is a process of tripping, falling and catching yourself over and over again.
Sport-Luxe is a fashion term for sportswear made in luxury materials that render it impractical for sports use. The work with this title (above) was influenced by a Versace ad campaign featuring a dress with an impractical printed belt suggestive of gladiators. There are chains around the neck that give the piece an edgy feel. As Knox describes it, "It's a sexy, 'come and get me' dress with the accompanying idea of 'no you can't'" The work has been folded and sprayed to render a 3-D effect. The theme is continued with Buff, a plain oversized white cotton sports shirt with a cotton pocket sown into it. The idea here is that it's impractical to have a pocket in a painting and that makes the purpose of the art enigmatic.
This piece isn't the only playful element in the show. Pneuma (above) is a piece with pastel coloured sections of T-shirts made from a heat-sensitive material that was briefly the rage in the 1990s. That was until clubbers discovered that most heat emanates from the armpits and therefore the garments failed to flatter. Breathing on Pneuma changes the colour and Knox is saying something about temptation by drawing one in. There are references here to Rothko and the German textile artist Blinky Palermo and is another example of how Hannah Knox is exploring and re-examining recent art history in a thoughtful way.
Buff is showing at the Ceri Hand Gallery, 6 Copperfield Street, London SE1 0EP until 26 October.Suggest a correction