December 07, 2015
BAHAMIAN MAKING TRACKS – Bahamian photographer and body painting artist Monty Knowles is hitting the rails literally. His artwork of the Danish National Women’s Handball Team decorates high speed trains in Europe as Denmark prepares to host the world championship starting December 5.
In The Bahamas, Monty Knowles is a soft-spoken, regular sort of guy. Architect by profession, photographer by choice, artist by design. And in recent years, that artistry has taken him to new places, focusing his architecturally trained eye on marrying external form and inner beauty of the human body, using bones, muscle and skin, hands and arms, torso and legs, feet and even fingers as a blank canvas begging for attention.
This is the Monty Knowles The Bahamas knows -- a humble guy who lives on a 40-something- year-old boat, who asks questions and proposes new ideas in equally rapid fire succession and who confesses his fear about a major personal defect – an absolute inability to remember names. The talented Monty Knowles, an unassuming national treasure and non-celebrity personified.
But in Europe, just about everyone knows his name. Monty Knowles is hot. He’s so hot, you can literally see the steam coming off his work. This summer he painted the women who make up the Danish national women’s handball team. Their images are everywhere. Since September, the national champion’s painted body -- poised for offense, ball in fingertips ready for power shot -- has wrapped a high speed train, taking Knowles’ creation zipping back and forth across the landscape at over 200 miles an hour. And this week, as Denmark gears up to host the Heart of Handball, the world championship, Knowles will be on display himself.
He’s painting in front of crowds expected to top 100,000 both at one of Denmark’s most prestigious museums and in the Fanzone of the immensely popular Heart of Handball championship where he will be positioned during the championship.
“When they first mentioned museum and suggested that I might be able to show there, I was thinking art gallery, like a pretty shop or something, but they actually meant the incredible museum in Herning, a city that reveres and is known for its art and architecture. I can’t believe it but they have created a whole new space for me,” said Knowles whose fame in Europe has been growing steadily since he first burst onto the scene in Paris.
At first he toyed with screens for buildings, a temporary artistic exterior fixer-upper. But he quickly turned his attention to something more personal, the human body. In between were travels – Cambodia, Australia, Paris, Germany, Denmark. Everywhere he went he found something he wanted to paint and photograph or photograph and paint, but his mind kept coming back to the most colourful art he knew, the vibrant, bold shouting costumes of Junkanoo. He knew he could finally bring all his structural and artistic strengths together, creating a Junkanoo body costume.
The wanderlust that had taken him more than halfway around the world more than once brought him home to produce the first Junkanoo nymph. That was three years ago. Now that nymph is part of the Ministry of Tourism’s ‘sales force’, Knowles’ painted nymph is a striking beauty fully clothed in body paint complete with headpiece. Photographs of her have appeared around the world. And it is the photography that Knowles believes will remain as legacy.
“I can’t remember a time I did not have a camera in my hand or that I looked at a scene or a moment in time and did not wonder what was the best angle and perfect lighting to shoot that moment,” said Knowles, who was still in primary school when his artwork first earned recognition. Once he started painting Junkanoo costumes on bodies, he began searching for new locations and sets against which to photograph the artwork he was creating, flying his plane with models and lighting assistants to various Bahamian islands, his favourite location, Great Harbour Cay in the Berry Islands because of the light.
The idea for the handball paintings came about late in 2014 when Knowles was in Denmark for the birth of his second son. A friend came up with the idea and pitched it to the Danish Handball Association.
“We thought that it would be a really interesting way to promote the Championships...and they agreed,” said Knowles. “Femininity and Fierceness was the concept. This dual concept was tricky, especially as we wanted four unique paint schemes. We painted in the dead of winter in a large studio that was difficult to heat and therefore tricky to keep the players warm while being painted.”
Each paint session was more than 10 hours plus photography. Knowles credits the Handball Association organizers with making sure that the process ran smoothly and efficiently.
“Working with the players was a joy,” said Knowles. “These were all world-class athletes and every one of them was fun and engaging. They were all-around great people to work with. You could almost feel their bodies vibrating with coiled energy through the paint brush although they did a fantastic job of lying still for all of those hours.”
What’s next for Knowles who left for Denmark December 2? “I’ll be home on December 21, just in time for Junkanoo,” he said, a smile spreading across his face, a twinkle in his eye.
A BAHAMIAN ARTIST IN DENMARK -- Danish newspapers like this one with circulation of nearly 70,000 are featuring the work of Bahamian body painting artist Monty Knowles who painted the Danish National Women’s Handball Team as Denmark prepares to host the world championship. Knowles’ work is also hitting the rails, wrapped on high speed trains zipping across the European landscape at over 200 miles an hour.
Bahamian architect and photographer turned internationally recognized artist Monty Knowles painted and photographed the woman he titled Junkanoo NymphE.