Rendered in a style inspired by 18th-century French portraiture and Polaroid film, Toronto-based artist Kris Knight’s subjects are hazy, surreal characters from dreams. In his latest series, “Smell the Magic,” on view now at Gucci’s Art Basel event at Spinello Project’s pop-up gallery in Miami Beach, some figures have Ouija board pointers for eyes, others have blossoms painted on their faces.
Knight’s paintings are floral but never cutesy: they juxtapose moody, black-clad figures against serene, blossoming backdrops. In “Bougainvillea Goth,” a ghostly figure in leather pants, combat boots, and Mickey Mouse ears stands against an impressionistic pastel landscape. In “Leather,” a vampiric-looking man sulks in a black hoodie in front of flowery mauve wallpaper.
Knight is the painter who, in June, gave Gucci’s Flora print a dark 21st-century update. Flora is one of the Italian brand’s most intricate and enchanting designs: berries, butterflies, dragonflies, and insects surround nine colorful bouquets of flowers. It was originally designed in 1966, when Rodolfo Gucci commissioned artist Vittorio Accornero to create a pattern for a silk scarf as a gift for Princess Grace of Monaco.
In his reimagining of Flora, Knight referenced ancient pagan Rome: he illustrated plants that women used for healing (poppy, mandrake); seduction (belladonna, datura); and protection (clover, dandelion, and nightshade).
Knight has long been a favorite artist of Gucci creative director Frida Giannini’s: his paintings have previously been featured on Gucci T-shirts, and Giannini’s Fall 2014 Menswear Collection was inspired by his chalky drawings and muted pastel colors. As to why she selected Knight to collaborate with on the Flora project, Giannini told Style.com, “Not all artists today are so talented in painting, and because, of course, the Flora pattern was born as a painting.”
Giannini has applied Knight’s revamped Flora print to a variety of her designs this season. Rendered in chromatic contrasts against black, navy, and pastel backgrounds, Knight’s design adorns silk scarves, handbags, luggage, and leather goods, as well as men’s and women’s ready-to-wear.
Smell the Magic is on view at Spinello Project’s pop-up gallery in Miami Beach until December 15.