Bill Knott’s Art Of The “Malignant”?

shybird by Bill Knott

shybird 2, Bill Knott

The enigmatic Bill Knott is at it again.  OK, I already regret the tone of that first sentence; its suggests a ruse, which is probably the last thing (or at least somewhere down on the list?) poet and artist Bill Knott has in mind with his recent online activities.  Since the abandonment of his cult-inducing poetry blog (don’t think he’ll like that characterization either), he’s begun selling his artwork online.  For years, Knott has been giving away self-made books of poetry with original artwork to friends and fans; now, we all can buy his work for anywhere from 80 to 150 dollars (  As a bonus, the generous Mr. Knott is including signed books of self-published poetry, some including original artwork, most including disparaging blurbs from critics.  He seems to have a special fondness for the words of Christopher Ricks, for whom he dedicated one of his paintings.  Knott quotes Ricks from The Massachusetts Review, albeit circa 1970, as referring to the poet as “malignant.”  Are we to take any of this seriously?  Given the work, I think so.  I recently bought the painting “shybird 2” (pictured here), and after receiving cordial and genuinely gratious e-mails from Knott assuring the paintings safe arrival, I received not only the beautifully executed work of art, but nine books of signed poetry books, one with an original piece of art work as its cover and another printed with a personal dedication as part of its title.

What I am attracted to in this particular painting is the complexities of its gesture as a figure, combined, paradoxically, with a simple, unadorned quality of expression.  The painting is at ease with itself–the figure’s clownish curtsy mocked effortlessly by the sheepishly hooded eyes and benign frown.  The limbs so perfectly balance the gesture that one is hard-pressed to imagine another possible rendering.  The colors, too, even in their minimalist boldness, do little to distract from the overall effect.  The black-lined red pronounces the figure’s lovely hunch, while the orange highlights make for the playful yet deliberate movement.  The sharp white draws us to the sleepy drabness of the face’s attractive malaise, the flawless eyes pronouncing a weary beak.  A figure “maligned,” perhaps, but still finding, in an increasingly apathetic age, a unique form of self-conscious protest.  Thank you, Bill Knott.