I was so impressed by Steven Soderbergh’s first season of the tv series »The Knick«, that I wanted to draw an illustration about the main character Dr. John W. Thackery, outstandingly played by Clive Owen. My main focus was on his secret drug abuse, and less on his achievements as a doctor at the Knickerbocker Hospital in New York. I hope that the little details like the apothecary bottle, the microscope, nurse Lucy Elkins, the doctor’s case and the typographic hints make it clear, what character we’re dealing with, without showing him in an OR.
The little skull and the pig are metaphors to describe his personality, as well as clues to the show itself. Thackery and his colleagues have to experiment on dead pigs to test new methods and medical instruments for lack of human corpses.
The chinese dragon, the opium poppy (Papaver somniferum) and the apothecary bottle are hints to his secret drug addiction. Thackery spends most of his nights in a chinese opium den. Later he starts to inject himself with cocaine from the hospital, which at the time is used as an anaesthetic. Even at a time of critical shortage of such anaesthetics, he steals the supplies from the hospitals storage to drug himself, so he can stay awake and work. He’s not only poisoning himself but also his surroundings, up to the point where his colleagues see no other way out than to hospitalise him in a rehabilitation clinic.
The alchemical symbol for antimony (a.k.a. The Gray Wolf) at the top, is the penultimate stage in the making of the Philosopher’s Stone. Both physically and metaphorically speaking, the gray wolf can symbolize either success or failure, as the final stage of making lead into gold is yet to come. I decided to have this symbol illustrate Thackery’s ambition to outshine his rivals in the medical world.
The little vignette behind the large Thackery figure depicts Dr. Algernon Edwards, Thackery’s only true rival at the Knickerbocker. Because of the racism at the time, he’s unwillingly standing in Thackery’s shadow, oppressed and detained from working on white patients, so he can’t flourish to his full potential. He still manages to invent a groundbreaking machine, forcing himself into the light and becoming Thackery’s partner on a scientific paper.
Nurse Lucy Elkins is Thackery’s love interest and probably his only ally. Out of love she helps him to steal drugs for his addiction. She’s trying everything to help him get up on his feet with the little possibilities she has. She’s a little candle in an endless see of darkness, reason why I depicted her sheathed in shadows.
The man in front of her is Dr. Everett Gallinger, Thackery’s protégé. Even though he is less qualified than Dr. Algernon Edwards, he has his mentors full support, simply for being white.
Title: ›The Knick‹
Status: private project
Tech. spec.: 13:7, 210 × 390 mm,
600 dpi, 16 Bit