12 Jun, 2009

Wandering spirit

Posted by: admin In: Guardian

Windswept excursions across the British Isles and beyond are the inspiration for this wandering spirit’s beautiful photographs, films and abstract drawings

While land artist Richard Long has tramped the earth in an attempt to understand its mass, Tim Knowles walks to comprehend its power. His art is beholden to the vagaries of the British weather, and in particular the wind, which he follows doggedly across the countryside wearing a Heath Robinson-style device that indicates its direction and the path he should follow. These journeys have ranged from a perilous two-day excursion across Dartmoor to wandering through the lamp-lit streets of London at midnight. Each of these endeavours is captured on film. When Knowles returns to the studio, he refers to the GPS and redraws the route, creating a finely wrought image that charts his meandering walk across the countryside.

These expeditions were inspired by a hot-air balloon accident in which Knowles broke his leg. Far from scaring him off adventure for life, the frustrating period of recuperation proved the spur for a series of arduous challenges. Perhaps the riskiest was an ongoing project he calls Nightwalks, a series of excursions across the countryside conducted during new moons last year. The artist sets up a large-format camera on a long exposure, then scales treacherous ridges and inches along precipices for an hour while carrying three flashlights. The resulting images reveal thin streaks of amber light, shuddering across the pitch black.

Each photograph, film or abstract drawing recording these explorations reveals the bravery, absurdity and irrationality of Knowles’s work – reminiscent of the Dutch artist Bas Jan Alder, who glorified endeavour and failures alike. The results are intrinsically beautiful, charting one man’s lonely and often whimsical relationship with the natural world, played out across the expanses of the British Isles.

Why we like him: For his Three Peaks Balloon Drawing Project (1999), in which he scaled the UK’s tallest mountains – Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowdon – within a 24-hour period. He mounted a curious contraption at the summit: a pen attached to a helium balloon and enclosed within a cage, enabling it to trace the wind’s movements.

Enigma code: Knowles has just returned from Afghanistan on a Ministry of Defence-sanctioned visit where he studied incendiary devices. Through research with the Royal Marines, he learned to look out for the secret signs left by the Taliban that warn civilians where explosives are situated. He began to see these symbols as a way of charting the treacherous countryside surrounding him.

Where can I see him? His solo show, Wanderlust, is at Plymouth Arts Centre until 26 July.

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