The extraordinary wood sculptures of David Knopp
Like ancient striated canyons shaped from water pulsing through the earth, David Knopp’s wood sculptures form flowing layers that evoke the essence of the natural world. The veneered pieces suggest movement, like wind rustling a branch, or waves swirling in a stormy ocean. Both artistic and practical, the sculptures serve as tables, chairs and lamps. “I just like the idea of functionality in art. I always have,” Knopp says. Only one of the 20 or so wood items is purely aesthetic: “Metamorphosis,” a thirteen-foot colossus, took about six months to complete
Knopp, 65, uses a technique called “stack lamination” where several layers of a composite material -in this case, plywood- are laminated together, creating a unique pattern that is accentuated when oiled.
Depending on the pieces, he chooses a variety of woods including poplar, Baltic birch and tropical, based on durability and patterns within the wood.
Knopp is largely self-taught with the exception of drawing classes he took at what is now Community College of Baltimore County, Essex. His first finished piece, a coffee table he built in the 1970’s, convinced him to continue.
By his third sculpture, a table with a shell-shaped top, he described what he called an epiphany. “Oh My God! I can make these things any shape I like. There were no limits except for the functional aspect of it. If it’s going to be a table, it has to have a surface you can put things on, and it has to be a certain height.”
Trees have always held a fascination for Knopp. Remembering his high school years hiking through Loch Raven reservoir with friends, Knopp says, “I would be the guy to see the piece of driftwood that would look like something.”
As adept at drawing as he is in woodworking, many large charcoal likenesses of trees adorn several rooms in his home, and have been sold to the public. “I like a lot of movement in my drawings and I carry that into my sculpture,” Knopp says. In several of his drawings, trees transform into human forms, with branches becoming arms, and trunks transmuting into human faces.
His artwork has won recognition from many sources including the Baker Artist Award in 2012, and an exhibit at the Baltimore Museum of Art. That same year, he won an award from the Maryland State Arts Council. In 2013, he was a semi-finalist for The Sondheim Prize. Last year, one work of art was accepted in SOFA (Sculptural Objects and Functional Art) Chicago.
Knopp uses computers for his job at a commercial printing company, but works intuitively to create his art, starting with a pencil and paper to make sketches and templates for his sculptures before moving to the cutting, gluing, sculpting, and final stages. Knopp’s work style is as fluid as the character of his sculptures. While stacking or sculpting, he continually makes adjustments as he works based on his aesthetic eye.
Solid yet elegant, the sculptures infer what is not there: the missing pieces carved out of the undulating shapes that still remain. Knopp says, “You won’t find a straight line in my sculpture. It just doesn’t happen.” For more information, go to davidknopp.com