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Breakfast Still Life Painting

I love breakfast. I believe starting every day with a nice leisurely breakfast is absolute perfection. I’ve spoiled my three year old son to believe the same. When asked what he wants for breakfast his reply is usually, “scrambled eggs, pancakes and bacon”. And that’s usually what he gets. Special occasions substitutes the pancakes for waffles.

Dutch still life paintings of breakfast are nothing like the photos of food you see online. Photos of food never seem that appealing to me, but the paintings are delicious. Antoine Vollon’s painting of “Mound of Butter” from the 1800’s was on view at the Seattle Art Museum a few years and it was a feast for the eyes. If they could make a small mountain of butter look delicious, you have to see paintings of eggs and waffles.

Waffles!

For my November Monthly Miniature, In Season painting I was excited to make a painting that honored the still life tradition and my love a fabulous breakfast. I knew I wanted the waffles to sit on one of the Dutch silver plates used in so many of my favorite paintings and my own waffle iron is very special to me. It’s an antique cast iron waffle maker from the 1800’s that my sister gave to my years ago, but my circular waffles just weren’t working. It had to happen, but it felt so wrong to buy rectangular frozen waffles to pose for the paintings when I love my own waffle maker so much! But for art, we suffer. I’m kidding, the waffles were delicious. ūüôā 

Waffles, apples and dragonfly still life painting by Rebecca Luncan

Finding Blooms and Insects In Seattle

I was having a hard time figuring out what flowers could I possible find in bloom in November and was about to give up. I take ballet classes from The Ballet Studio in the University district in Seattle and in mid-November I looked out the window while at the barre to see the flower box in full bloom. Kristen, my teacher gave me a pair of scissors after class and let me bring home her last remaining blooms for the painting. I’m amazed I found roses blooming in November, but Seattle is a pretty special place.

The red dragonfly is a frequent visitor to my backyard. I live near several likes north of Seattle in Lynnwood. One summer my husband wore red swim trunks while going for a swim and he was surrounded by dozens of them as he floated.

Hope you enjoy the painting and hope you have a happy holiday season!

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Forest Floor Still Life Painting with Rabbits

My English Spot rabbit, Harriet, makes her debut in my newest monthly miniature painting. I was inspired by the forest still life paintings of Otto Mardeus van Schrieck a Dutch painter from the 1600’s. 

Otto Mardeus van Schrieck

Otto Marseus van Schrieck, Snakes, toads and butterflies, 1639, oil on canvas, 24″ x 19.2″

Van Schrieck’s paintings juxtapose light and dark. A sinister snake might lurk in the gloomy foreground while a radiant bloom or a moment of light glows from the background. The New York Times published an article about a new book that explores his work last November. It’s a really colorful read, and I highly recommend taking a look, if only to see some of his fascinating paintings.

Though some elements in my painting come directly from the careful study of a work of van Schrieck’s, I definitely took a lighter approach to my painting. I told my husband that, “I didn’t have such severe subject matter in me.” But after the painting was finished and signed, filled with flowers that reminded me of my family, a mountainous landscape that reminds me of my Pacific Northwest home, and insects, frogs and rabbits that remind me of my childhood, I had a miscarriage. It was the fifth since my son was born three years ago. After finding out, I picked up my paint brush and added a snake. I’m doing fine and my spirits are higher by the day. It’s just interesting, after all these years of painting, to recognize how much of myself I put into each one, however subtle or unconscious.

I hope you enjoy this month’s painting. Take a look below for some detail images. The Silvery Blue butterflies were particularly trying on the eyes!

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Insect Painting Miniature

In art school I was known as the “bug girl” because almost all of my painting had insects in them. Insects were a huge inspiration, and though they are no longer the primary focus on my work, they have continued to appear in my paintings throughout the years. I find that the closer that I look at the insect I’m painting, the more I feel a sense of empathy for it. I imagine a personality in there, and wonder about the history of it’s life.

My insect collection has been with me since my art school days. Some of my insects were gifts from Cincinnati Zoo entomologists, while others I sought out myself. I learned to pin insects from a friend I met at the frame shop where I used to work. 

Anita’s Insects

The insect specimens in this painting are from a very special part of my collection. These creatures came from three prized boxes put together by photographer Anita Douthat when she was a girl in Northern Kentucky. I knew Anita through her husband Cal Kowal, who was my photography teacher at the Art Academy of Cincinnati.

Still life paintings can tell a secret story through the symbolism of their elements. These pale raspberries grow in my garden and are symbols of kindness. The shell came from my husband’s pocket (he’s always collecting shells and rocks on his adventures) and are a symbol of birth and fortune. Insects are all around us, yet their forms, life cycles, and social structures couldn’t be more different than our own. Dragonflies symbolize change, and grasshoppers luck. Bees have had close ties with humanity and throughout the ages have variously stood for power, love, and industry. All of these types of insects can be found in the Northern Kentucky region where my models were originally collected over forty years ago (I exaggerated the blue in the dragonfly which was quite faded).

This painting is 5″ x 5″, oil on copper. Go to the Monthly Miniature page to see more of the paintings from the series, In Season.

Jan van Kessel the Elder, Flemish still life master that inspired this months painting

A Dragon-fly, Two Moths, a Spider and Some Beetles, With Wild Strawberries, Oil on copper; 9 x 13 cm

Jan van Kessel the Elder had big shoes to fit into. He was the great-grandson of Pieter Bruegel, who is cited as the most significant artist of Dutch and Flemish Renaissance painting. His grandfather Jan Brueghel the Elder, was a close friend and collaborator with Peter Paul Rubens and the two artists were the leading Flemish painters in the first three decades of the 17th century. Not to mention his uncles and great uncles… Let’s just say, he came from a family that made a big and lasting impact on the art scene.

Starting his training at the age of nine, he was particularly influenced by the work of his grandfather and was quite versatile. He worked in many genres including studies of insects, floral still lifes, marines, river landscapes, paradise landscapes, allegorical compositions, scenes with animals and genre scenes.

I was drawn to his insect still life paintings by his playful compositions that fill every section of the page, while carefully balancing color and shape in a seemingly effortless manner. The results of his carefully painted tiny subjects do not come across as cold scientific illustrations, but instead are warm and lively portraits. And if that weren’t enough, he also painted these miniature still lifes on copper (my hero!).

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Strawberry still life painting for June Monthly Miniature

I have a quarter acre garden, and strawberries are one of my top crops. This month’s strawberry still life painting features my June Bearers (one of two types of strawberries). At the height of my amateur gardening¬†career (before having my son), I picked¬†three quarts every day for a month! If you knew me then, you ate my strawberries.

Now that Isaac is three, I have more time to spend in the garden. The strawberries are slowly making a comeback after some intensive weeding (come by if you want some!). I wanted this painting to be a bit of an overload of warm colors, with slight touches of green. Pairing strawberries with this Japanese bowl from the SAM collection and a Painted Lady Butterfly did the trick.

This bowl is perfect, not only for its colors, but also because the imagery is relevant for this series. The bowl was made around the same time as the famous Dutch still life paintings that inspired the In Season Monthly Miniatures, and the Japanese artist has depicted European traders, very likely Dutch. The figures are as exotic to me as they likely were to the artists who first painted them.

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Detail of Miniature oil painting of strawberries and Japanese porcelain on copper by Rebecca Luncan, 5" x 5"

Read the text by SAM’s former Curator of Asian Art, Yukiko Shirahara, to learning more about the porcelain bowl:

“Southern Europeans, primarily Portuguese and Spanish, arrived in Japan in the 16th century. The Japanese called them nanban, or ‚Äúsouthern barbarians,‚ÄĚ because they came through a maritime route from the south. The term nanban, however, was used to refer to almost anything foreign in 16th- and 17th-century Japan. Images of Europeans proliferated in response to the curiosity of all things foreign, and became common motifs to adorn ceramic wares such as these bowls.

European figures were popular motifs in Japanese art during the Edo period, particularly representations of the Dutch (called komo: “red-haired people”) because of their direct contact with Japan through trade during a time of national isolation. It was the Dutch East India Company that exported Japanese products, including Imari porcelain, to Europe. Dutch motifs were favored not only for exports but also for the domestic market, to satisfy the Japanese taste for exoticism and curiosity about Western culture. The familiar design of “five-ships,” depicting five Dutch vessels with Dutch figures, is the best example of the popular theme, which appeared from the eighteenth century onward.”

Detail of Miniature oil painting of strawberries and Japanese porcelain on copper by Rebecca Luncan, 5" x 5"

Detail of Miniature oil painting of painted lady butterfly on copper by Rebecca Luncan, 5" x 5"

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Miniature oil painting of Birds of the Pacific Northwest

For the Month of May, I’ve made a still life painting of birds of the Pacific Northwest. I’m paying tribute to the painter George Flegel. He was born in what is modern day Czech Republic and did his training in Austria and Germany but ended up in Holland in¬†the early 1600’s. His strange compositions, bursting with life are a study of technical perfection. I love how he incorporates birds in his still life’s in such a natural way. Between looking at his paintings,¬†spending more time out in the yard,¬†working on chicken paintings for a show in August, AND having a¬†Stellar’s Jay nest in the eaves right outside my bedroom window, birds have been on my mind lately.

George Flegel, Still Life of Birds and Insects 1637

Georg Flegel, Still Life of Birds and Insects 1637

I’ve made a painting that is heavily inspired by one of his most unusual composition filled with birds and insects. I’ve chosen birds and insects that can be found¬†in my backyard in the Seattle area. My dad always knew what birds were in the yard when we lived in the farmhouse in Ohio.¬†I never studied them enough to be encyclopedic about the different species like he was and I had trouble identifying the different little brown ones. My friend, Chris Keenan (who also helped identify the nest in last months painting) helped me figure out more species than¬†could possibly fit into one painting. I did my best, though!

In this Months Painting:

I have 8 birds in the 5″ x 5″ painting; American Crow, American Robin, Anna’s Hummingbird, Dark-Eyed Junko (Oregon), Northern Flicker, Plaited Woodpecker, Red-Breasted Nuthatch and a Stellar’s Jay. Insects are: Darkling Beetle, Painted Lady Cocoon and Butterfly (did you find the Caterpillar in last months painting? They transformed!), Grasshopper, and a¬†Pholcid House Spider (also called a daddy long-legs). Also included: black sunflower seeds and a Blue Flag Iris I plucked the from the garden.

Detail of Miniature oil painting of birds on copper by Rebecca Luncan, 5" x 5"

Detail of Miniature oil painting of birds on copper by Rebecca Luncan, 5″ x 5″

It was incredibly challenging to figure out such a complicated composition. Getting that many birds in there, meant I had to paint them at a very small scale. I have some detail images below to help you get a sense of the size of this painting. It took a lot of careful consideration to try to make the painting look right upon careful close inspection, but also from even a short distance away. Some of the details are lost, even from two feet away!

I hope you enjoy this painting as well as your own backyard birds! Go to my Monthly Miniatures page to see all of the paintings in this series. And join my mailing list for a Monthly Miniature Preview, to get a chance to purchase them before before they go for sale on the website, and to see what’s new in the studio.

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April Bouquet Miniature Floral Painting

Spring has officially sprung and i hope that my newest Monthly Miniature floral painting reflects that. You may have noticed that my first four paintings in this series all have a slightly different feel (see them all on the Monthly Miniature page). Part of the change is the increase in plants and insects awakening to populate each months painting, and for April, I wanted to pack the painting full of new lush blooms. I have included seven types of plants (some in different colors), three insects and the nest of a Dark-Eyed Junco that my husband found in our yard. You can find a complete list at the end of this post.

In addition to changing the subjects in my paintings, I’m also changing how they are composed. For each of my twelve miniatures this year,¬†I’m studying a different master of still life paintings from Northern Europe (1600-1800). I‚Äôve long admired paintings from this era and this series is giving me the opportunity to luxuriate in the detailed little worlds created by so many different artists. See the inspiration behind all of the “In Season” miniatures in previous posts.

Abundance of blooms: Gerard Van Spaendonck

Flower still Life, oil on canvas, 22.5″ x 16″

Gerard Van Spaendonck¬†(1746 ‚Äď 1822) was an influential Dutch painter, who settled in Paris early in his career. He is known for his fabulously dense oil paintings filled with a wide assortment of flowers and a variety of other living creatures.¬†Gerard was a master at creating an explosion of color and texture.

I’m generally drawn to simple compositions, but I wanted to go in a different direction with this painting and he was the perfect muse. I’ve been excited to change the subjects of each Miniature and highlight what is currently in season. It’s been an interesting challenge to also think of creating a mood that is reflecting the sparsity or abundance of things available as well. I have each month sketched out for the rest of the year already!

I carefully choose each of my blooms, but heavily referenced his composition from the painting, “Flower Still Life”. My plants came from a variety of places; some I found online, others were purchased, and some I picked from my garden which is starting to explode! The Seattle Growers Market is a great resource, with public hours on Fridays, 10 am ‚Äď noon. I took photos and mixed everything together on the computer for the composition (Pixelmator for Mac). I posed as much as I could in a Frankenstein taped up heap to reference from life but used my digital mock up as a primary reference for plants.¬†The birds nest with egg and caterpillar were painted solely from life (my three year old son got caterpillars for his birthday!)

What’s in my painting?

Birds and Insects:

Bumblebee
Housefly
Painted Lady Caterpillar
Dark-Eyed Oregon Junco nest and egg

Plants:

Anemones – white and yellow
Euphoria
Grape Hyacinths
Kale

Ranunculus – red, white and pink
Salal (leaves)
Tulips Рrainbow parrot, flaming white parrot,  Absalom, mint green parrots

 

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Miniature Oil Painting of Daffodils

Daffodils are a symbol of the beginning of spring and the subject of my favorite poem, I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud, by William Wordsworth (scroll down for the poem). Though not as varied as tulips, the typically yellow flowers have been cultivated to bloom in many other shapes, sizes and colors. I wanted to show the wide variety available today and choose seven distinctive types for this miniature oil painting of daffodils.

Another herald of spring is the ladybug, which are just coming out of hibernation. I added three in this painting for good luck.

If you live in¬†the Northwest,¬†may have also recently seen the Northwest Salamander in your neighborhood! These sweet little creatures breed this time of year and I’m very lucky to live in an area where they are thriving. I live near a small lake and find them in my yard and out on the sidewalks when I go for walks. They’re amazingly still and gentle. They don’t hurry away, but just sit and smile up at me!

This one has quite a bit of tiny details and if you ever see it in person, you might want to have a magnifying glass handy so you don’t miss anything.

See all of the paintings in the series so far on the monthly miniature page and sign up for my monthly newsletter for a Monthly Miniature Preview & for updates from the studio.

Wishing you a very Happy Spring!

I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud
by William Wordsworth

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
and twinkle on the Milky Way,
They stretched in never-ending line
along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
in such a jocund company:
I gazed‚ÄĒand gazed‚ÄĒbut little thought
what wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

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Monthly Mintiaure: In Season, Still life painting of Brussels Sprouts and Porcelain Bowl

I’ve always loved Art Museums and have been working at the Seattle Art Museum for 13 years.¬†It seems as though I’ve gotten to install paintings by just about everyone¬†that has graced an art history book with my own two hands.¬†It’s been inspiring to see the works up close, but it’s also wonderful to work with so many other artists who help contribute insight into the work at the museum and my own artwork.¬†It was actually a SAM exhibition¬†that rekindled¬†my love of Dutch still-life paintings, “European Masters: The Treasures of Seattle”.

My first year at the museum was spent just making¬†mounts for the porcelain room. Because of my connection to SAM, including porcelains in this series feels natural.¬†I’ve chosen to include¬†this exquisite 16th century Jingdezhen-ware porcelain bowl from SAM’s¬†collection. It’s perfect for the month of February. It features¬†“three goats (yang) and the Three Friends of the Cold Season (pine, blossoming plum, and bamboo) all carrying a message of renewal appropriate to the beginning of the new year. Winter ends and spring arrives; yin is on the wane and yang is on the rise, heralding the rebirth of nature.”

I chose to make this month’s still life painting of Brussels sprouts for two reasons. I love that the vegetable is named for a city in the region where these paintings¬†reached their maturity, and they are one of the only vegetables growing in my yard right now (the rabbits love them!).

See more Monthly Miniature paintings from this and past series in the Monthly Miniature gallery.

 

Brussels Sprouts and Porcelain Bowl still life painting oil on copper by Rebecca Luncan

 

Brussels Sprouts and Porcelain Bowl detail still life painting oil on copper by Rebecca Luncan

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New Monthly Miniature Series: “In Season” Featuring Still-Life Paintings

Happy New Year everyone!¬†I’m celebrating the¬†new year by starting a new Monthly Miniature series. For each month of 2019, I will create a miniature still-life painting in the Dutch Still-Life tradition and I hope you will enjoy following along. As a newsletter subscriber, you’ll be the first to see them, and they will be available for sale as soon as they are announced.

The Historic Still-Life tradition with a modern perspective

Still-life paintings from Northern Europe were at their prime from around 1600 Р1800 and they often feature blossoms, insects and food that could not be found out of hibernation or in season at the same time. They are constructs of seasonal impossibility, pieced together from earlier studies, signifying impermanence and the perception that earthly life is transitory.

In Season pays homage to Northern European still life, while also contrasting modern and past experiences. Expectations have changed; perennial availability is the norm now, and seasonality is hardly acknowledged. In Season features combinations of fruits, flowers and insects that occur together naturally, in appreciation of the beauty of the cyclical and ephemeral.

The first painting of “In Season” features the camellia flower and cave cricket. The camellia is one of few flowers in bloom here in January, and you may also be startled to find a cave cricket in your basement. Most insects are dormant this time of year, but these little creatures are actively scurrying around ready to frighten unsuspecting people in cool dark places.

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Owen and Silvan, a Miniature Portrait of Brothers (as birds)

This month’s miniature portrait of brothers features the sons of artist¬†Jennifer Zwick. Jenny is a fixture in the Seattle art community, and I’ve known her since long before¬†she had kids. I’ve always been a great fan of her work, her contagious¬†grin, and her breathtaking beauty (I’ve nicknamed her Snow White, and yes, she is the fairest of them all!).

detail of Miniature portrait of brothers. oil painting by Rebecca Luncan

Detail of, “Portrait of Owen and Silvan”
4″ x 4″
oil on copper

I did a painting of Jenny once upon a time, and I’ve been excited to make a portrait of her boys. I originally imagined a classic miniature, but these two just didn’t quite fit the mold. Jenny sent¬†me dozens of images, some of which fit my original idea, but there were so many goofy shots. These kids are definitely¬†raised in a very creative household, and I felt more and more that their portrait should reflect this. There were several images that fit, but I love¬†the expressiveness¬†of the two of them in¬†this image in particular. You see so much about their relationship, and capturing it in a painting¬†was worth the madness¬†of painting such tiny faces and hands.

This is the smallest-scale portrait I’ve made in a long time, and if I never work so small again, I’ll be glad the last time was for¬†Jenny. Please take the time to enjoy a peek into her life as an artist mom, through her words and images below.

Please visit the gallery of Monthly Miniatures, and learn more about all of the Artists featured in the series in the Archive.

Words from Jennifer, on being an artist and mother:

Jenny Zwick, art and family

Jenny Zwick, art and son Owen

My first thought is to write about how the restrictions of parenting have affected my work: how, when I was first pregnant, I could no longer build large sets, so instead made tiny wearable rooms (which I call “head sets”) with dollhouse hardwood floors and framed artwork which attach magnetically and look hilarious and unreal; or when I was pregnant a second time, and so large I could barely move, and my art grew even smaller still, making miniature watercolors of Nintendo game systems.

But if I focus away from how parenthood makes one’s artistic career smaller (no residences; harder to attend openings; expensive child care; higher stakes and confusion about if making art really is a priority), I see that it was a very natural thing for me to incorporate parenthood into my artistic practice and output.

Jenny Zwick, art and sons Owen and Silvan

Jenny Zwick, art and sons Owen and Silvan

Before pregnancy, my work often focused on what I experienced as a child – things I thought might be possible, or wished could happen, or might as well have.¬† My obsession with optics, with the disconnect between how our senses literally perceive the world, and then how our brain translates these into the impression of a coherent experience, this was amazing to see firsthand as my children learned about object permanence, or how proximity affects scale (older son’s first airplane trip: “when do we get small?” since he’d only ever seen airplanes flying overhead, in perfect miniature distant detail), or what aspects of a world we will completely take for granted, and what sticks out as wrong, or as special, or as notable.¬† One ongoing photo series of mine involves building set-based narrative photographs depicting young girls in surreal circumstances, staging remembered childhood ideas and atmospheres.¬† I was recently able to create several new images, and for the first time, there are adults – two of the photos have mothers; one with her daughter, and one hugely pregnant.

Jennifer Zwick, "Hello 2" 2010 21" x 31" Archival pigment print

Jennifer Zwick,¬†“Hello 2”
2010,¬†21″ x 31″
Archival pigment print

During my first pregnancy I had a show called “Partum” which was hung in three sections: First Trimester, Second Trimester, Third Trimester – the work was all very distinct, as I adjusted to giving up Ritalin, then as I became anemic, and then as I dealt with acute nervousness and humor about the impending birth.

Recently I revisited a photograph I made for that first “Partum” show, which was about how the female body is treated as a public object. For that photograph I stretched chaotically patterned fabric on a frame, cut a hole in it, and stuck my third-trimester belly through. Photographed head-on, it is a strange exercise in depth, with the flat fabric directly parallel to the picture plane, and the belly jutting out, impossibly round. In the new iteration, I mounted the life-sized photo on foam core, cut the belly button out, and attached it to a small motor which I wired to rotate, comically spinning in the middle of this huge belly, just as weird and humorous and insane as it is to grow a freaking person in your body.

Whenever possible, I love having my kids help with my projects, building or installing or whatever won’t 1) derail the project 2) ruin everything or 3) kill them.

Jenny Zwick, art and sons Owen and Silvan

Jenny Zwick, art and sons Owen and Silvan

Additionally, making large-scale art projects means I end up with interesting and odd materials – one project involved taking site-specific photographs of banal locations at Seattle Center, then printing them out life-sized and reinstalling them on location as photo opportunities.¬† In order to ensure I had the exact right focal length and composition I made several rounds of large black and white test prints at copy centers.¬† I did not end up creating a piece at the Kobe Bell Pagoda location, so my then 5-year old son had a great time using all the huge images for his own purposes.¬† One of them became the backdrop for a ‚Äúplay‚ÄĚ he wrote about ghosts, and we brought it to the pagoda and he performed the play (which involved a surprising amount of jumping in dried leaves).

Jennifer Zwick, "The Moment" 2017, 28.8" x 40" Archival pigment print

Jennifer Zwick, “The Moment”
2017, 28.8″ x 40″
Archival pigment print

Jennifer Zwick

From Jennifer about her artwork: Trained in photography, I work in a variety of media, including large-scale installations, wearable sculptures, painting, interactive video installation, printmaking, and photographic processes. I am particularly interested in optics, symmetry, humor, one-point-perspective, anxiety, repetition, repetition, and repetition.  I create artwork which requires the viewer to reorient themselves, using one-point-perspective, in- camera techniques, site-specific construction, and sculptural installation, presenting nonlinear narratives depicting the fraction of a second where something fundamentally concrete is shifted just enough to turn an ordinary moment into something gently surreal.

I firmly believe that by making art which looks fantastical but is constructed rudimentarily, “in real life”, an opportunity is created for the viewer to think about what we will accept as real; about how much our brains miss when we move through the world; about what we take for granted and how much power we truly have to reshape our reality.