"His work is honest and brave."
Michael A. Knutson was born to Loren and Margo Knutson in 1970 in San Jose, California and moved to Port Townsend, Washington where his brother, Luke, was born. The two siblings grew up adventuring along the coastal beaches, forests and waterways. Following a bitter divorce, the brothers were taken to Eureka, California with their mother, returning to Port Townsend each summer to live with their father. At age 15, Michael left Eureka alone, joining his aunt and uncle in Warren, Minnesota where he finished high school with the hopes of leaving struggles of a difficult childhood behind.
In 1989, Knutson attended the University of Washington, studying English Literature and rowing on the crew team. He earned a gold medal as a freshman at the West Coast Rowing Championships. College life was a turbulent time for the young Knutson, matched in many ways by the upheaval of the local music scene which enraptured the future artist. In this time, a close friendship was developed with legendary painter Galen Garwood, who he knew from Port Townsend. "Growing up, Galen was the 'famous artist' in town. We would stop on our ten-speeds and point as Galen would drive by." Lacking any substantial interests, talents or direction and clinging to a job as a doorman at a night club called The Fenix Underground, Knutson left Seattle to join the U.S. Marine Corps. Michael confided in a close friend later: "I really didn't want to go into the Marines,... I simply needed to find a path for myself. The Marines kept a noble quality to themselves, which I admired and I thought I might find, in a way, a truer self with them... I had no idea that it would lead to so much time in hotel rooms, experimenting with art supplies, finding the act of artistry and eventually living in D.C." It was in a tiny studio atop a garage in Southeast Washington D.C. where the first paintings and poems of Michael A. Knutson would emerge.
The art world, into which he began to journey, readily accepted his work. Strangers began to purchase his washed acrylic and ink forms on paper, which turned more and more to canvas. Knutson finished his four-year service and returned to Seattle. Coffee shop exhibits turned into gallery shows. Wesley Wehr asked Knutson to exhibit by his side in a Collusion Gallery show sponsored by the Seattle Post Intelligencer. Friends and acquaintances, surprised and somewhat taken aback, witnessed exhibitions morph into large warehouse extravaganzas. Galen Garwood, the consummately wise artist, mentored Knutson along the way.
In 1999, Knutson formed an art house called the Soma Group in the once quiet and defunct neighborhood of South Capitol Hill. With new peers, Michael found an ecstatic lifestyle of constant creativity. The Soma Group produced films, exhibits, concerts and literature. "We celebrated everything Avant Garde... so we ended up celebrating everything," former member Patrick Taylor recalls. It proved to be an enormous time for Knutson.
In 2004, Michael rented a 2,500 square foot loft in downtown Seattle's Pioneer Square. Inside the new space, the sizes of his canvases evolved into larger and larger works; the dimensions of some reaching tens of feet. Many paintings had to be dismantled and rolled up in order to leave the loft. In this time, Michael confided with his closest friends that he longed to get away and return to the sensations of a childhood spent outside with his brother. He also wanted to leave for New York City.
In 2005, Michael A. Knutson departed for the East Coast. In the early winter of the same year, he opened an exhibition of paintings in the Manhattan neighborhood of Tribeca. The following day, he mysteriously left on a train headed north. By the beginning of December, he was alone in a small cabin on the northeastern-most tip of Moose Island, Maine, without money, firewood, transportation, food or much of anything else.
In 2008, Knutson re-emerged in California, driving a truck full of paintings into San Francisco where he quietly settled into a tiny studio in the Tenderloin District and then a larger workspace in the Mission District. When the recession hit, he converted an old tackroom barn at a mountain ranch in Napa where he worked as a hand. One of the owners of the ranch knew the shop where the notorious Molly Barnes of "Molly Barnes: Art News" usually had her hair done in Beverly Hills. Using the ranch pickup, Michael drove all the way down and asked the hairdresser to put a photo album of his paintings in her lap during one of her visits. Back at the ranch, weeks and months went by. Finally, word came back that Molly wanted to represent him, and that he must move to Los Angeles.
To be continued...