Graham Knuttel was born in Dublin in the summer of 1954 to parents Frederic, from Germany, and Margaret, from England. His parents had been living in England before Graham was born, but after the second world war, they moved to Ireland; similarly, his father had moved to England from Germany in his youth with his mother to escape the war torn land left behind by the first world war. Knuttel’s artistic abilities were encouraged by his parents, and according to the artist himself, he let his academic life fall by the wayside to purposely fail his Leaving Cert exams so that he could pursue a creative career at third-level.
He was formally educated in art at the Dun Laoghaire College of Art & Design, though he did not have the same success there that he experienced once he left. Knuttel’s paintings are distinctive with their figures with overly exaggerated facial features and contrasting colours, however, this was not necessarily welcomed by his lecturers and teachers. In order to graduate from college, he had to move into the plastic arts and become a sculptor, however, these are not the works that he is known for today. Once Knuttel finally did graduate from art college, he had a string of different jobs, including a butler and a grave digger.
It was not until the late 1908s that he began to find some genuine success as an artist. In 1987, owner of the Apollo Gallery, Hugh Charlton, began to show Graham Knuttel’s work; and from that moment on the artist established a dedicated fanbase. A significant number of his fanbase are celebrities in their own right, namely Sylvester Stallone, Frank Sinatra, Robert De Niro, and Whoopi Goldberg. His work became extremely popular and highly collectable, particularly during the Celtic Tiger in Ireland.
Knuttel’s artwork is heavily influenced by his early childhood and he found a way to channel his trauma into his compositions in an alternative way. One example of a particular element of trauma from his youth can be found in the portrayal of birds in his paintings. When he was a young boy, Graham Knuttel’s only meeting with his paternal grandmother did not prove to be a happy encounter; at the age of only four or five, she scratched at his neck with her long nails after attempting to lock him inside a wardrobe. This incident is reflected in his work through the exaggerated long talons on the birds he painted.
There was a time in Ireland where Knuttel’s work was seen on the wall of every member of high society, but today, the access to such works has dwindled. After the sudden passing of Graham Knuttel in May of this year, there is no longer an endless supply of his works that can be purchased with ease, and so demand has increased. In this month’s auction we have a work by Knuttel that has never been seen before on the market; it is believed to be one of his very last works. Golden Tiger features one of Knuttel’s signature cats with a sneaky look in his eye; most likely contemplating how he will pounce on all of the birds featured in the composition.