Megh Knappenberger is the Kansas City artist and proud University of Kansas alumna behind the colorfully eye-catching artwork featuring the Jayhawks, the Midwest, and all things that inspire happiness. Her curiosity and passion for storytelling shines through in her expressionist-meets-realism art, which she describes as careful planning and messy spontaneous exploration.
“I went to KU for a degree in graphic design and did that for many years while painting on the side,” says Knappenberger. “In 2016, I had to take a pause from working when a back injury sidelined me for several months. I was running a branding business at the time, and because it was just me and a couple of contract employees, I had to shut it all down to recover. I moved out of my then-studio space and spent a few months at home recovering. During that recovery time, I began painting more and asked myself whether it was actually possible to make a living as an artist, and that’s where it all started.”
Knappenberger describes her style as riotously colorful, evocative, and joyful. Love is in the details—those that share that same amount of love for the subjects she paints can feel the magic, and this magic connects groups over their shared love. Her favorite subjects to paint are no secret, as they make a reoccuring appearance.
“As a lifelong Midwesterner, this place is my muse. I love creating work that celebrates our home, like sunflowers, bees, bison, Jayhawks and portraits of notable Midwesterners. I paint recognizable things, but spin them through my filter, which often means abstracting colors and adding colorful drips, splats and incorporating scribbles and marks. For me, it begins with storytelling. I am a sentimental nerd who loves research. I build a little world around my subject before I ever start painting. It’s important to me to create work with meaning that celebrates my subject. The research is always different, but sometimes this means traveling to see a herd of bison or combing the Spencer Research Library at KU for a specific edition of the student newspaper paper from the 50’s. This research all helps me intentionally engineer the way my work feels, because I want you, the viewer or owner, to feel that same thing the instant you see it.”
Her most popular works of art continue to be her officially licensed KU work that put her on the map.
“It began with individual paintings of each of the six Jayhawk icons over the years, and has expanded to include other licensed KU icons like The Fieldhouse and National Championship win. In each of those pieces, I incorporated meaningful physical objects into the original paintings, like limestone “Rock Chalk,” newspaper clippings and confetti from the National Championship game.”
This past year was an especially noteworthy banner year for Knappenberger.
“I created portraits of four of our KC Current players in partnership with American Century Investments, created a KU National Champions heart for The Parade of Hearts, which was recently donated back to Allen Fieldhouse, and had the privilege of walking out onto the court alongside the heart and my 8 year old son during halftime, which was a moment of immense pride for this Jayhawk. I also donated a Ted Lasso portrait to Thundergong! which was personally autographed by Jason Sudeikis and helped raise a boatload of money for Steps of Faith Foundation.”
If you’re looking to make your own story tangible, a custom commission is the perfect way to capture a special moment in time or whatever makes you happy. Knappenberger can include any personal artifacts that can be physically incorporated into the paint, burning the item and using the ashes, attaching with glue, and much more. The item can also be incorporated symbolically through imagery, numbers, or words onto the piece with paint or ink. This one-of-a-kind commission is yours alone and custom-made to fit and coordinate with any space.