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Jewels of Color

Fascinated with transformation and in love with color, recently I have found myself drawn more and more to the depiction and study of butterflies and moths. In ancient myths, the symbol of the butterfly has long been associated with rebirth and the cycle of life. In antiquity the Greeks considered the butterfly to be a representation of the human soul. The Greek word “psyche” means both soul and butterfly. In Nazi Germany when the concentration camps were freed, drawings of butterflies were found on the beds of the children. When asked about these, the young survivors said that they identified with the image of the butterfly and that these drawings served as a reminder to each other that one day their souls would fly away from pain.

The life cycle of the butterfly is nothing short of miraculous. From larvae to caterpillar, then chrysalis to butterfly, these creatures are alchemists of color and form. Spectacularly beautiful in their diversity, butterflies and moths are, to me, “jewels of color”. The poetic name, Lepidoptera, comes from the Greek words for “scale” and “wing”. Butterfly and moth wings are covered in complex scales which vary in shape from species to species. Over 175,000 species of Lepidoptera now exist all over the world.

The color of Lepidoptera is produced in two ways. It can come from chemicals stored in the wings which produce pigments. Other colors are produced by the physical structure of the complex wing scales and the interference of light as it is reflected off the scales. No butterfly or moth uses only one means of producing colors. All use the combination of physical and chemical elements to either disappear or attract attention, depending upon their needs. This means of combining colors gives Lepidoptera the ability to exhibit an infinite palette of color.

These colors, in addition to offering an array of spectacular beauty also serve the purpose of survival. Their color can serve as camouflage or as a means to frighten a predator when they open their wings to reveal “eyespots”. It also serves to attract mates and it plays a part in helping them to maintain a constant body temperature. A butterfly’s body temperature must be around 96.8’F for takeoff and flight. Black or dark-colored wings directly capture solar energy and warm the body whereas pale or white wings reflect it. Wings help to collect energy but they must also dissipate the energy produced during flight which can lead to death if it reaches more than 104’ F. The wings do this by means of convection or radiation.

The depiction of Lepidoptera for me presents my artistic nature with unparalleled challenges and unmatched delight. As a mixed media artist, I have long been fascinated with working with reflective materials such as glass beads, stained glass, metals and iridescent shells. How does one “capture” the effect of light, a moving, changing, ever-shifting phenomenon? I have chosen to depict some Lepidoptera with glass beads, shells and metals to mimic nature’s splendor and to “capture” the effect of the interference of light as it reflects off the wing “scales.” These pieces I call my structural pieces. In the artwork which I have created working solely with paint, my aim has been to capture the essence of the emotion or symbolism of each butterfly. These are my pigmentary pieces. To some of these I have also added otherwordly humans. Some of my work is based on a particular species of butterfly and in other pieces I have created my own combinations of color and form. This freedom to move back and forth between what I see and what I am able to imagine is what gives me my greatest joy as an artist. This is where I go when I want to create my own world of infinite possibilities.

From my beaded Lepidoptera, my PASSION FLOWER series have evolved. One of the most striking characteristics of the Lepidoptera is the close association many have with flowers. This has lead some scientists to hypothesize that insects and plants have followed parallel evolutionary paths. One night in my studio as I experimented with different combinations of beads I found myself longing to create a piece which allowed for a more random rendering than my Lepidoptera and from this place of longing my techniques for creating my PASSION FLOWER series was born. I have included them in this show because to me Lepidoptera and flora seem to belong together for they are both master alchemists and jewels of color.