Hannah Knox

This is Not a Shirt

<em>Talking to Myself</em>, 2022, oil on linen, 30 x 40 cm.
Talking to Myself, 2022, oil on linen, 30 x 40 cm.

For several years, British multimedia artist Hannah Knox has been painting shirts that happen to catch her eye in department stores, online, or in her closet. A meditation on identity and materialism, her Shirt series, which has been exhibited in New York, Detroit, Marbella, Spain, and her native London, merges conceptual performance with traditional, two-dimensional works. ‘This is really all a painting is, it’s just color and fabric,’” she says. “The canvas is a flat object but it is an object and that opened the conversation to how a painting can be sculptural or performative.” Knox’s photorealistic depictions of folded, prepackaged shirts are many things to her: a testament to how we present ourselves to the world, a visual joke about representation, a meditation on loss, or even a 21st-century Turin Shroud. “We kind of use clothing in that way,” she says. “There are these types of personas that we take on to be different versions of ourselves.”

Knox cites Belgian Surrealist René Magritte as an inspiration, specifically his Ceci N’est Pas Un Pipe (1929)—a painting of a pipe accompanied by the words “This is not a pipe,” meant to remind us that what we see is a representation, not the object itself. Similarly, in Knox’s paintings, “the format of the canvas and the depth of the side adds to the idea that it is an object,” she says. “It is an object, but it’s also a canvas,” one that asks the viewer what the shirt signifies for them. For Knox, the paintings remind her of empty vessels and what our bodies are or aren’t capable of. “The sense of loss in the work seems to come through for people,” she says. “The fact that the shirts are unembodied seems to allow the viewer to project their own memory or significance onto the garment.”

Permission required for reprinting, reproducing, or other uses.

Noelani Kirschner is a former assistant editor for the Scholar.


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