Knoll’s imagery is culled from thousands of his own drawings, with certain images appearing repeatedly. Often choosing easily-recognizable symbols (Superman, bowling pins, a teddy bear), he plays on the associations we have with these images and encourages us to draw new conclusions and look at these objects in different ways. Knoll comments, “I have an affinity for images. Some artists shy away from images because of the baggage they tote, but not me, man, I take that baggage and go for a ride. I choose them for a variety of reasons- their pathos, humor, tension, or aesthetics. The best have all four.” Knoll’s work is at once humorous, provocative and deeply emotive.
Recent paintings depict octopi, squid and other sea creatures. At times funny and at others formidable, this may at first be seen as a fascination with these shapely forms. Autobiographical snippets written along the curvature of tentacles or drawn in the background of the picture plane offer a different view into the artist’s psyche, and upon close inspection we realize that these creatures are stand-ins for the artist himself, a type of self-portrait. We read of high school track meets gone awry, the frustrations of a fishing excursion with Knoll’s cigarette-puffing father, series of top-ten lists and endless one-liners. These often serious anecdotes add a sense of tension to the light- hearted, brightly colored hues of Knoll’s paintings.
In an essay for Knoll’s exhibition catalogue, Chris Ware writes of the work, “First, it was disarming, then it was hilarious, and sometimes even repulsive. Then it could go anywhere.” No matter the theme or subject, each of Knoll’s paintings presents several layers of meaning, ranging from the absurd to the deeply personal. He is a master storyteller, while always allowing the viewer to embellish his or her own details and morals onto each tale.