Reilly Knowles is an interdisciplinary artist currently residing in London, Ontario, but for whom Milton will always be his hometown. He began his art training with local artists Tatiana Pastor and Fedor Yatsik and was the youngest member of the Fine Arts Society of Milton when he participated in their first-ever Youth Visual Arts Mentoring Project in 2015. He went on to earn his Honours Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree from Western University in 2020 and in the course of his studies received accolades including the Tony and Betsy Little Gold Medial in Visual Arts, and the Forest City Gallery Exhibition Award and the Mackie Cryderman Award for Excellence in Visual Arts.
Knowles’ work is informed by his desire to nurture a deep relationship with his ecosystem and regional history, including all their uncomfortable tangles. Working in a range of media spanning from minute watercolours to densely embroidered textiles, he finds inspiration in native plant species, the flow of seasons, and local mythologies and superstitions. His most recent body of work, which was exhibited in his solo show Dirt Stains and Other Works at Forest City Gallery in London, Ontario in April, features textile wall hangings and sculptures made with locally foraged plant dyes and found objects washed up by the Deshkan Ziibi, the river which is the lifeblood of the city. The exhibition also included a video of Knowles carrying out the process of interring one of his doll-like sculptures in a swamp, as he holds the forces of growth and decay as equally important in his artistic process. Knowles has also presented solo shows at the Queen Elizabeth Part Community and Cultural Centre in Oakville and at Spencer Gallery in London. He has participated in group exhibitions at such venues as Artlab Gallery, Satellite Project Space, TAP Centre for Creativity, and Good Sport Gallery, all in London.
The artist’s affinity for the natural world has led him to his current project, in which he is developing a workshop for community members from the Coves neighbourhood in London to learn to forage and create dyes using the plants which grow in this interesting ecological area. The dyed materials will be used in a community quilt-making project led by artist Michelle Wilson. Knowles is also researching the history of witchcraft folklore in Ontario for a forthcoming painting series.
Knowles was attracted to Arts Milton’s Exclusively Inclusive project not only because he is excited for his art to be incorporated into the landscape of his hometown but because he is a member of the Queer Community and believes it is important to erect public symbols of support for marginalized communities as part of a greater social project of striving for human rights and equity. Queerness is another prominent theme in his artistic practice, and he was granted the Jury’s Choice Award at the 28th London Pride Art Show for his painting Millefleur, which explores the gendered body and spirituality through medieval tapestry-inspired visuals.
Trans Love Traffic Monument
(This Traffic Box is located at Louis St Laurent Ave. and Leger Way / Corner at TD Bank)
Trans Love Traffic Monument takes inspiration from medieval illuminated manuscripts and silkscreen prints to create a multi-faceted painting which appeals to the community of Milton to tap into the love already in their hearts for their transgender neighbours. Trans rights have advanced by leaps and bounds in recent years, but this has led to a fiery backlash, and a culture war continues to rage as we redefine our understandings of gender and sex in our quest to extend compassion and dignity to transgender and genderqueer individuals. This artwork affirms Milton’s capacity to love their trans community members and utilizes a language of mythology and metaphor to celebrate trans experience. The two narrow sides of the painting depict figures with both masculine and feminine elements, figures which joyfully exist in the in-between, as transgender people often experience. The front and top faces depict queer embraces, reiterating the artwork’s themes of love, queerness and unity.