Dorothy Knowles was born in the small town of Unity, Saskatchewan, in April of 1927. She attended the University of Saskatchewan and received a Bachelor of Arts in Biology in 1948, intending to become a laboratory assistant. At the encouragement of a friend, Dorothy attended the 1948 workshop at Emma Lake, led that year by Reta Cowley and James Finley. That summer would redirect Knowles’s life toward art. From then on she was a regular participant in the Emma Lake Artists’ Workshops until 1969, studying with Joe Plaskett, Will Barnet, Clement Greenberg, Ken Noland, Jules Olitski, Lawrence Alloway and Michael Steiner. She would take classes from Eli Bornstein at the University of Saskatchewan, attend the Goldsmith School of Art in London in 1951 and the Banff School of Arts in 1952. In 1987 she was awarded the Medal of Saskatchewan and in 2004 she received the Order of Canada.
Knowles’s work is firmly grounded in the landscape of her home on the Canadian Prairies, painting large format panoramas of prairie skies, cool pools of water and vibrant, verdant gardens. With the exception of a brief experiment with abstraction in her early years, Knowles has remained firmly committed to the land. Although in art circles in the mid-1950s landscape was falling from favour, Knowles was encouraged by critic Clement Greenberg, who saw her uncommon approach to the land as worthy of pursuing. She has made Saskatoon her lifelong home, and in 1951 she married abstract painter William Perehudoff. Their three daughters Catharine, Rebecca and Carol are all accomplished painters.
Knowles is deeply indebted to the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists and their approach to colour and light, but her work is more immediate and intimate than that of Monet or Cézanne, to whom she is often compared. Knowles has worked hard to avoid conventionality in her work, and painting scenes of less appealing views has been one of her ways to achieve this. The result is often a more real representation of nature. As her career progressed she began to thin out her paint, moving from heavily painted oils to thin acrylics. Recently she has worked again in heavier paint. From the mid 1980s until the mid 1990s her works were characterized by their large format and by their wonderful quality of line. They are as much drawings as paintings, with the subject being drawn first in charcoal directly on the canvas. Knowles then uses thin acrylic to add colour, leaving most of the drawing intact; clear and definitive in some areas or washed over and diffused in others. These striking works are uniform and consistent, full of movement and action - extremely painterly.
Since 1954 her work has been the subject of regular shows, both solo and group, in Saskatoon at the Mendel Art Gallery, Waddington Galleries in Montreal, in Toronto at the David Mirvish Gallery, as well as in Regina, Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton and Ottawa. In 1968 she was included in the 7th Biennial Exhibition of Canadian Painting at the National Gallery of Canada and in 1977 the Hirshhorn Museum of the Smithsonian Institution included her work in 14 Canadians: A Critic’s Choice. She is widely collected by public museums in Canada and considered to be Saskatchewan’s quintessential landscape painter.
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