Born in Saskatchewan, Canada, Dorothy Knowles, now 94 years old, is a renowned and highly influential landscape artist. Growing up on a farm, Knowles was surrounded by the views of the prairies. Although she never intended on becoming an artist, having instead attended the University of Saskatchewan to study biology, she discovered her passion for painting after graduation while attending a summer course offered by the University.
Switching paths, Knowles continued her education in art, studying under notable artists like Eli Bornstein and Nikola Bjelajac at the University of Saskatchewan. In 1952, she visited the Banff School for a summer course and decided to move and continue her studies in England, where she attended the Goldsmith School of Art in London. Knowles returned to Saskatchewan, partaking in various workshops in Lake Art Camp throughout the 1960s, working under names like Clement Greenberg, Kenneth Noland, Jules Olitski, Lawrence Alloway and Michael Steiner.
The influence of Noland and Greenberg can be seen in Knowles’ work, exploring both impasto and fluid techniques in her art. Many have compared her work to that of Monet, with her impressionistic depictions of nature employing light and colour to depict the beauty of Western Canada. Despite travelling all around Europe with her husband, William Perehudoff, in 1952, Knowles remained devoted and inspired by Canadian landscapes and nature.
In 1954, Knowles held her first-ever exhibition at the Saskatoon Art Centre. Since then, her art has featured in shows across America and Canada, including the Biennial Exhibition of Canadian Painting at the National Gallery of Canada and the Hirshhorn Museum of the Smithsonian Institution's exhibit “14 Canadians: A Critic's Choice”. In 1983, she displayed her work in galleries across London, Paris, and Brussels, travelling in a group exhibition known as the “Five From Saskatchewan.”
Knowles’ keen and talented eye captures the Canadian outdoors in its various states of glory. From flowery fields to fall and winter wonderlands, Knowles's work honours the planet, and in doing so relates to the United Nations Development Goals for Life on Land.
The Life On Land initiative aims to “protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.” Knowles's work serves as a reminder and, in a way, a love letter to nature, showing people what they are protecting — or what they should protect.
Knowles’s paintings can be one’s beginning steps in respecting and observing nature. However, conservation does go beyond appreciation. The globe is facing a biodiversity crisis, and to combat this crisis, Indigenous knowledge and voices must be centred in the movement.
Conserving nature is a vital step in reversing the impact of climate change and must become a priority in policy-making, lifestyle habits, and global discussion. With that said, this cannot be done without concentrating on and funding Indigenous leadership.
Consumerism convinces us to focus on what is manufactured, and Knowles’s work reminds us of the power and beauty of nature. While we pay respect to Knowles as an artist, let us also remember that action is still required to make a genuine difference.
To learn more about conservation and Indigenous leadership within the climate change movement, check out the following resources:
Decolonizing Environmentalism by Jazmin “Sunny” Murphy
To learn more about Knowles, check out her website. To see Knowles’s art in person, you can visit these galleries:
Assiniboia Gallery in Regina, Saskatchewan
The Gallery Art Placement in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
Wallace Gallery in Calgary, Alberta
Han Art in Montreal, Quebec