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Still life with Parrot, Oranges and a Chinese Love Story

The Western Chamber

This February I wanted some romantic imagery. This 18th century bowl with its imagery of lovers in a moonlit garden was just what I was looking for. You see a poor scholar, beckoning the aristocratic beauty he has fallen in love with, who is just behind a high wall with her maid. This story, “[Romance of] The Western Chamber,” was originally written as a tragedy, but was later altered to have a happy ending. The happy version seems to dominate and there’s no hint of tragedy in the synopsis written by the Beijing Tourism Bureau. 

These little oranges are currently in season, and I loved the eye catching combination of the contrasting orange and blue. As I dreamed up this painting, I always imagined it with a parrot, never any other bird. I’ve  had a fondness for parrots ever since my dad came back from Florida with a parrot named Charlie, when I was around 8 years old. I don’t know how my mom felt about it, but that was my dad. (My sister could tell you stories about bringing a baby cow home in the back of our station wagon.) Scroll down for a picture of little Rebecca petting Charlie. 

Part of the fun of making still life paintings is to research historical symbolism and dream up my own hidden stories. Many objects have several meanings so the story can differ depending on who’s doing the dreaming. In this case, an uncaged bird symbolizes sexual freedom, and parrots specifically represent nobility, richness and self confidence. Oranges can represent abundance, longevity and beauty. 

Everything was becoming a bit too sweet and easy for the lovers, so I added a fly to bring them back down to reality. I appreciate the description by Steven Connor in his article The Painter and the Fly”, describing flies in art as the “embodiments of accident, of what just happens to happen”. And if you want to see how symbolism can be scrutinized by scholars, take a look his article which discusses the fly in art over the course of 500 years.

BOWL

Collection of the Seattle Art Museum (not currently on view)
Qing dynasty, Kangxi period (1662-1722)
Porcelain with underglaze-blue decoration, 3 3/4 in. (9.5 cm), height 8 1/4 in. (21 cm), diameter, Gift of Mrs. John C. Atwood, Jr., 70.42
Photo: Paul Macapia

“The fourteenth-century drama The West Chamber tells of a poor scholar, Zhang Sheng, seen here holding a fan, who falls passionately in love with Oriole, an aristocratic beauty. In this night scene, from behind a high wall and accompanied by her clever maid, Crimson, Oriole smiles at scholar Zhang, her hands raised in delight. Shining above them are constellations thought to determine the lovers’ fate. The scene appears to represent the two lovers by moonlight in the secrecy of the monastery garden.” Mimi Gardner Gates, “Porcelain Stories,” p. 118

The perfecting of the underglaze-blue technique made possible richer gradations of the blue color, seen particularly on wares from around the mid-seventeenth to the eighteenth century, and expanded the repertoire of design. Narrative scenes taken from lyrics, plays, and popular novels (like The West Chamber depicted on the bowl) became fashionable around this time, catering to the interests of the rising merchant class and the scholar gentry alike. These interpretive blue paintings told intimate stories to the viewer, and enriched the surface of the blue-and-white porcelain. 

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Subscribe to my newsletter to get an email when each Monthly Miniature is finished and the chance to purchase the latest painting. I usually announce when the newest painting will be released for sale on Instagram and Facebook within 24 hours before sending the newsletter.

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New Series! Flights of Fancy

Duel Over Porcelain

I’m excited to share my first 2020 Monthly Miniature and announce the new “Flight of Fancy” series. I hadn’t done a still life painting for more than 15 years until last year’s series, so studying the Dutch masters for insight into the genre was crucial to that project’s success. This year I will continue in the spirit of Dutch still life and featuring birds together with items from the Seattle Art Museum collection, with which I’ve worked for the last 13 years. It’s too early for me to understand how the two relate to each other over a series of twelve, but that is the fun of the monthly miniature, to see where the journey takes me.

Inspiration From SAM

The first featured Seattle Art Museum object is a Square Serving Dish. It’s one of my favorite pieces in the collection, and I feel it’s the perfect piece to open the New Year and the new body of work. The piece gives me contrasting feelings of chaos and grace, yet feels so perfectly balanced. I have installed this piece numerous times, including twice in Japan. Most recently, I helped install it at the Asian Art Museum, scheduled to reopen February 8th after a recent renovation and expansion.

Pacific Northwest Gardens and Birds

If you live in the Pacific Northwest, you are likely familiar with the Anna’s Hummingbird. I used to have 6 hummingbird feeders all around my house, and at any time of day I could see an Anna’s feeding from some window or another. Once feeders are up in winter, though, Hummingbirds become dependent on the feeders for the season; after one very cold winter of continually defrosting a feeder for several weeks, I have given up the practice. Instead, I have filled the garden with plants that will feed them through the winter, including an Oregon grape outside my bedroom. I love waking and going to the window to watch these territorial birds feed from the yellow blossoms. My Oregon grape has become huge over the years, but that doesn’t mean anyone is willing to share.

Along with a sprig of Oregon grape in this month’s painting are Yuzu lemons my friend Hiromi let me pick from her tree in Seattle. (I also used these fragrant lemons in last month’s painting.) The beauty of these two plants comes at a price though. Both the Yuzu and the Oregon grape demand careful attention when you’re near them as they hide painful spikes. And yes, both these plants are also in season, a theme I enjoyed from the last series and will continue. 

SQUARE SERVING DISH

Edo period (1603–1868), Japanese, Stoneware with underglaze decoration, 1 7/8 x 7 3/4 in.

Collection of The Seattle Art Museum
Photo: Paul Macapia

Written by Hattie Branch, Blakemore Intern for Japanese Art:

“Employing vivid colors and energetic, abstract designs, Oribe ware is the most dynamic type of Japanese tea ware. The style takes its name from Furuta Oribe, 1591-1615, the great tea master of his age. Designed for use in the meal accompanying the tea ceremony, a square dish like this would be used to serve fish, slowly revealing the image beneath as the meal was eaten. Oribe ware, as this tray excellently represents, broke with a tradition of elegant restraint to embrace an unprecedented level of vivacity.
This tray is meant to depict water, earth, and sky. We read it from bottom to top:
Starting in the lower left corner, the tray was dipped into a green glaze which visibly pooled during the firing process, evoking water.

Moving upward, a pink-tan band provides a bed for two semi-circles with radiating patterns. This common decorative motif represents ox cart wheels soaking in water—wooden  cart wheels needed to be soaked regularly to prevent warping. Between the two wheels, the pattern of squares and dots could represent a piece of dyed fabric. These are colors, images and activities associated with the earth.

The upper-most, tan portion encompasses a single large star, surrounded by three circles with trailing tails, likely comets. In the upper right corner, three arcing stripes abstractly render the long trailing clouds popular in Japanese painting. This band depicts the sky.

The ebullience that makes Oribe ware stand out amid tea ceramics reflects both the power and dynamism of the Momoyama Era (1573-1615), and, amidst political and social upheaval, a move to rebel against previous aesthetic rules, and the power structures they represented.”

I hope you enjoy the new Flight of Fancy series!

How to Purchase

Subscribe to my newsletter to get an email when each Monthly Miniature is finished and the chance to purchase the latest painting. I usually announce when the newest painting will be released for sale on Instagram and Facebook within 24 hours before sending the newsletter.

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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.

See my work at the Edmonds Arts Festival, Father’s Day Weekend

edmonds art's festival

Image from the Edmonds Arts Festival website

See three of my miniatures, on display at the Edmonds Arts Festival, June 16-18, 2017

“As one of the longest-running Northwest premier arts events, the Edmonds Arts Festival is a three-day event that celebrates the arts in our community. Scenic downtown Edmonds, just 15 miles north of Seattle and overlooking Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains, gives patrons a beautiful setting to view and acquire original works of fine art and crafts. The event provides three days of entertainment, shopping, dining, and gallery exhibits to area locals and visitors alike. During the Festival you can enjoy:

  • More than 240 artist booths with original works of art for sale where you can meet every artist in person
  • Three juried art galleries where award-winning work in all media are on display and for purchase
  • Performers who provide entertainment at an outdoor amphitheater, including music and dance
  • More than 20 food vendors who provide ethnic and healthy food choices along with plenty of traditional fair food options
  • An exhibit of more than 1,000 selected pieces of art from students residing within the boundaries of the Edmonds School District
  • A “Kids Create” area that provides children with guided art enrichment activities and hands-on experiences, as well as the ever-popular face painting
  • The Festival Store, where you can purchase art posters, logo clothing, and other Festival memorabilia

The Edmonds Arts Festival Association is a not-for-profit organization staffed entirely by volunteers who are passionate about its mission. All profits from the Festival are transferred to the Edmonds Arts Festival Foundation that distributes it back into the community in the form of art scholarships and community grants.”

Go to the Edmond’s Art Festival website for parking info and directions. Hope to see you there!

Belgian d'Anver Bantam
“Belgian d’Anver Bantam”
oil on copper
4″ x 4″
Owl drawing by Rebecca Luncan
“Owlie”
graphite and charcoal on paper
4″ x 4″
Bruno the cat, miniature oil painting on copper by Rebecca Luncan
“Bruno”
oil on copper
4″ x 4″