The glamor of garbage

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//img-LbHaB9SVPN.jpg’, ‘Photo courtesy of Norm Knott’, ‘Work by artist Morn Knott such as the work shown here is displayed at local venues and Charlene's Gallery Ten in Door County.’);

What do you get when you mix Norma Desmond, Abbie Hoffman, and Jesus Christ?

If you’re Norm Knott, you get a body of artwork where what would otherwise have been discarded is brought back to life into a more glamorous, sparkling, or spiritual version of itself.

A self-described “mixed media recycling artist,” Knott creates collages in an obsessive and seemingly tedious process of affixing tiles, glass, beads, and as many found objects as you could think of onto any imaginable surface.

Knott, a participant in last weekend’s Art Scene opening at Bennie’s Cleaners on First Street, has been assembling collages since he was a child. He speaks of having an early interest in scraps and “leftovers,” and at age 10 often raiding construction sites for materials he could use in his work.

Knott works with furniture, dollhouses, and smaller pieces including boxes, wall pieces, and toys. His furniture pieces are impressive in their scale and craftsmanship, showing a painful attention to detail. They are also a testament to patience: completing one dresser or chest may take more than a year, depending on its size. The smaller pieces are breaks from the difficult work of the furniture, but are no less well-thought out. The dolls and toys Knott makes during his breaks from the larger pieces are frequently donated to charity auctions as well.

The materials for his work come from everywhere and anywhere: broken shells a neighbor brings back from Florida, pieces of the artist’s worn-out Buddhist prayer rug, or interesting bits of rusty metal of unknown origin. “The objects inspire the work … pieces evolve from one object or one feature of an object,” Knott says of his inspiration for each piece.

Themes in Knott’s work range from Buddhism, kitsch, or more frequently, those dealing with nostalgia or American entertainment culture. Next to a collage with a stamped image of Buddha (one from a stamp that Knott designed and made himself) hangs a piece reminiscent of tourist souvenirs you might have found in the Wisconsin Dells in the ‘50s. On a cross section of log with a string of rawhide and feathers, Running Bear Loved Little White Dove recalls the popular song of the same name. The cheesecake image of an anglicized Indian princess against a forest elevates what is trite and simple into Las Vegas glitter.

In addition to shows at local venues, Knott has a solo show at Charlene’s Gallery Ten in Door County and in a school charity auction for GLSN at Pause Café in Chicago on April 30.

The artist sums his work up best: “As long as there’s garbage, there will be my art. Wait, you’re not going to tell everyone I said that!”

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