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September/October 2002


JOHN KRYNICK: Reading Between the Lines

The knitted and crocheted wool letter that inspired John Krynick to begin knitting text. Signed S.D., Washington Insane Asylum, February 1868, it measures 29 by 22 inches. A photo of this letter appeared in the catalogue for the 1992 exhibition "Talkative Textiles," which was shown in the Transamerica Pyramid Lobby, San Francisco. Photo courtesy of Mary Hunt Kahlenberg.

It is with the certainty of conviction that John Krynick tells how encountering a letter, knitted in 1868 to President Andrew Johnson of the United States, made him realize the potency of the knitted word. The care and dexterity that went into the making suggest a clarity of vision and organization that is dramatically at odds with the fractured logic and the passionate, desperate spirit that animate the letter, which has the distressing return address "Washington Insane Asylum."

After leaving Cranbrook Institute of Art in Detroit-where he studied weaving-in 1982, Krynick was himself "extremely questioning" of the anointing power exercised by galleries and critics, possibly a holdover from his student-years involvement in the buzzy avant-gardism of "live art has its day." Thus one senses a link between Krynick's earlier attitudes and his current use of modest, easily available materials.
John Krynick in his studio in Woodstock, N.Y. Photo: Carole Waller.

Krynick's hand-knitted samplers require of viewers the willingness to learn a new punctuation (three vertical parallel lines, for example, indicate the conclusion of a word). He sometimes omits such signposts, however, and he seldom observes syllabic boundaries when breaking words, practices that result from his allowing the actual making of the artifact to dictate such matters. The strongly linear movement involved in reading these bands of colored text underlines the visual momentum of the horizontal elements. One senses the knitter's following a rhythmic pattern, comparable, perhaps, to the plowing of a field-an idea that brings to mind Krynick's statement that "I sometimes think of the work as landscapes."

It is denigrating to the spirit of the work to ignore the political basis of Krynick's choice of text. This is sometimes overt, as in pieces titled Supreme Court or SCUM Manifesto. Nineteenth-century recipes and nature texts might not seem promising sources for the activist to plunder, but Krynick often selects examples that contain terms with special reference to gay slang. Thus, Pansy, Queen Cakes, and Fruit, when lifted from their context and used as titles for these knitted texts, unobtrusively-but with a forcefulness accrued from their collective effect-signal how memorably these words have gathered further meanings.

These quirky, allusive telegrams demand close scrutiny in prying the letters from their background to discover the words they form. A more distanced viewing point "melts" the textual nature of the piece, so that patterns of shape and color take on an abstract Klee-like quality. Krynick's works are well worth the reading.

-Ian Wilson

Photos: Andrew Wainwright.

Enemy Snake, 2001; knitted cotton and nylon thread; 10 by 14.5 inches.  
Labor Day, 2001; knitted cotton; 6.5 by 5 inches.
Sunset Blvd, 2001; knitted cotton and nylon thread; 16.5 by 16.5 inches.  
Pansy, 2001; knitted cotton and nylon thread; 6.5 by 5 inches.  
Catbird, 2001; knitted cotton and nylon thread; 12.5 by 14 inches.  
Woodpecker, 2001; knitted cotton and nylon thread.
Chickadee, 2001; knitted cotton and nylon thread; 9 by 11 inches.  
Chickadee (detail)
Queen Cakes, 2001; knitted cotton and nylon thread; 16 by 26 inches.  
Tom's Garden, 2001; knitted cotton and nylon thread; 6 by 4.5 inches.

Who Are, 2001; knitted cotton and nylon thread; 10 by 11 inches.

Fruit, 2001; knitted cotton and nylon thread; 6 by 8 inches.  

Ian Wilson is a freelance writer with a special interest in art, design, fibers, and ceramics. He lives in Bath, England.

This profile first appeared in:

Sept/Oct 2002

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