Knapp Mural

Museum President Dr. James Waldron at the Alexander's Mural's exhibition at the Art Factory in Paterson, NJ, on 6/13/15.

Museum President Dr. James Waldron at the Alexander’s Mural’s exhibition at the Art Factory in Paterson, NJ, on 6/13/15.

Knapp Mural Panel Exhibit

The Knapp Mural Panel exhibit provides an experience for visitors to view Stefan Knapp’s unique work of art. The mural contains 280 panels, each weighs approximately 460 pounds. Knapp considered it to be a map of the world, inspired by the aerial views he saw as a pilot. Partial viewing of the panels is provided for the exhibit.

The exhibit offers an intimate experience with the art. The mural was produced using an enameling process Knapp patented which fused colored glass with large areas of steel creating a weatherproof surface. The exhibit provides a personal look that only the artist had before each panel was installed to create the mural that hung on the Alexander’s building in Paramus, NJ. One can examine the technique in a way never before possible.

Stefan Knapp broke traditional boundaries and took the medium of enameling on metal to places it had never been before. He became absorbed with the nature of the material. He found beautiful effects could be achieved by using combinations of transparent, opal and opaque colors and by applying them so that they took on their own free-form shapes, creating exciting secondary colors. By working on an arrangement of any number of panels, he could easily produce murals of unlimited dimensions. He found his style of painting was changing and becoming more abstract as he worked in a faster and freer way and became carried away with the possibilities of this fascinating medium. The work had permanence and he felt had found a means of making a lasting statement. The technique provided colors that would remain bright for years to come.

Knapp’s work attracted the attention of George Farkas, the head of Alexander’s Corporation. They agreed on a mural that would be 200 feet long and 50 feet wide to adorn the facade of the store being built in Paramus, New Jersey. Stefan rented an aircraft hangar at West Drayton, England. He gathered a team of willing assistants to work on his most ambitious and exciting project yet. He was photographed working on skis that he had adapted to avoid damaging the panels. He also used enormous mop-sized brushes. It’s interesting to note that upon realizing the publicity it was attracting, workmen hid one of the panels in order to demand a higher rate for the job.

The work was completed and installed within 18 months. Farkas commissioned three more murals. However, his son had already approached Salvador Dali regarding one for the stores, and as both artists had signed contracts with different members of the family, a famous breakfast meeting took place. Dali demanded his payment for the contract but had no means of producing work that could stay outside and proposed that Stefan enamel his design. Stefan refused to do anything but his own work on principle. Eventually, Dali had to be paid off and Stefan produced an enameled relief made up of spun steel domes on square bases for Alexander’s New York store on 58th Street and Third Ave. The fate of these works is unknown. – Excerpted from Glass on Metal, “Stefan Knapp: A Visionary Artist Who Worked In Enamel” Vol. 18, No. 3, October 1999.

About The Artist

Stefan Knapp (1921 – 96) was a Polish born painter and sculptor who worked in Great Britain. He developed and patented a technique of painting using enamel paint on steel which facilitated the decoration of public architectural structures.

Knapp studied at the Lwów Polytechnic. After the outbreak of World War II, the Soviet Union occupied Lwów Polytechnic and murdered Knapp’s father and sent Stefan to a Gulag in Siberia. The Russians put him to work painting slogans. He was given crayons colored blue, black and red and some rags used for bandages on which he produced portraits of the prisoners.

Knapp was released in 1942 after the Sikorski-Mayski Agreement was signed between Poland and the Soviet Union. He then joined the Royal Air force. While in the RAF Knapp pursued his art by painting or sketching portraits of fellow pilots. He remained in London and studied at the Royal Academy and at the Slade School of Fine Art.

Stefan Knapp’s experience in the Gulag and as an RAF pilot inspired the series of works titled Gulag. The works were noted for many experimental techniques.

His early symbols originated from nature: man, animals, water and trees, the things he felt close to. Knapp began to rely more on forms he invented from his experiences in the increasingly modern, scientific and technological world which he was part of. He developed an underlying organic connection and balance between his shapes; combined a vibrancy, joy and understanding of color that gives life and mystery to his paintings.

Knapp produced murals of unprecedented size with materials which were meant to last thousands of years. He first received wide attention and acclaim during his exhibition in London in 1954. There he presented a unique and innovative style and technique, which involved melting glass into pieces of light steel, using specially made furnaces.

His sculptures and art work were exhibited widely. Knapp is well known for his large murals including a series at the Heathrow Airport, murals at the Hallfield School in Paddington England, the Warsaw Poland Metro, Mikołaj Kopernik University of Toruń, the Netherlands, Austria, Peru and America. Stefan Knapp created multicolored outdoor sculptures and many reliefs held in private collections.

Knapp’s proudest work was the largest enamel on steel mural in the world, sized at 200⨯50 feet (about 60⨯15 meters). It was commissioned to hang on the Alexander’s department store building in Paramus, NJ. It was gifted to the Bergen Museum of Art and Science (BMAS) before the store was demolished. Several panels are displayed at the museum’s new location at the Art Factory located near the Great Falls National Historical Park in Paterson. The Stefan Knapp panel exhibit will continue during the mural restoration, with (likely weekend) hours to be announced soon on the museum’s website.