McKnight discovered art at about age thirteen when his mother gave him a set of oil paints, and his first painting - a snowy castle on a hill - was similar to those he still creates. When he was sixteen, McKnight's choice of career was confirmed by the famous designer and art director of Harper's Bazaar, Alexey Brodovitch, who told him that he "had it".
After growing up in various suburbs of Washington , D.C. , Montreal , and New York , he attended Wesleyan University , a small liberal arts college in Middletown , Connecticut , where he was one of only five art majors. Perhaps this fostered his independent, even eccentric, approach to the art "isms" of his time.
He spent his junior year in Paris where he developed a life long love of European civilization. After a year of graduate work in art history at Columbia University , McKnight decided against pursuing a career as an art professor or curator. In 1964 he found a job at Time magazine where he would work for eight years, interrupted by a two year stint in the army in Korea. McKnight held many jobs there, beginning as a file clerk and ending up writing advertising copy.
During a vacation in Greece in 1970, McKnight realized that life in a corporation was not for him. He had been reviewing art for a radio program around that same time, and it became clear to him that the art currently popular was not his cup of tea either. Two years later, with the cushion of his profit-sharing plan, he left Time , summered on the Greek island of Mykonos , and commenced painting in earnest.
His work began to sell, although slowly, in America and Germany . In the early 1980's he discovered a larger audience by creating limited edition serigraph prints. By then he had found that, for his work at the time, the silkscreen technique was a natural choice - its brilliant colors and clean shapes echoed his own visions.
In 1979 in Mykonos , McKnight finally met the muse he had been searching for in Renate, a vacationing Austrian student. The couple married the following year, and Renate moved to America .
Throughout the 1980s McKnight's art became increasingly popular, and by the end of the decade he was at the top of his field: six books (including two in Japanese) had been devoted to his work, and hundreds of silkscreen editions had been sold. His art was perhaps even more well-known in Japan , where he was commissioned to paint a series of views of Kobe for the city's 1993 fair.
In 1994 he was commissioned by the White House to paint the first of three images for President Clinton's official Christmas card. In the mid - nineties McKnight deepened his visions, and in the process began to paint larger and more built-up canvases.
Today, McKnight's work is represented in the permanent collection of New York 's Metropolitan Museum of Art and in the Smithsonian Institute. McKnight and his wife live in a large neo-colonial house in the picturesque village of Litchfield , Connecticut . He has converted the top floor to a loft-like studio where he spends most of his time reading, dreaming, and creating pictures of real and imagined Arcadias.