Jhenna Quinn Lewis: Birds in Art
December 13, 2017
In Jhenna Quinn Lewis’ elegant and austere paintings, curious little birds often explore romantic environments away from their natural habitat, perching on music boxes or worn books as if they have just fluttered into a forgotten corner or a quietly arranged still life. As the birds linger in these softly lit spaces among ornamented objects, they bring a romanticized, fairy tale feel to the Oregon artist’s minimalist compositions.
While Quinn Lewis’ paintings may seem to illustrate fictitious fables or “pieces of a poem,” which aptly titles one of her latest works, the birds that occupy them are anything but imaginary. American Goldfinches, Eastern Bluebirds, White-Throated Sparrows and more flit into her paintings as highly realistic representations of their species. “I got my interest in birds from my father,” says the artist, who grew up on a forest preserve in the suburbs of Chicago. “Where we lived there were little Robin’s nests and he would point them out to us. My brother and I would sit under the trees and listen to the baby birds.”
While Quinn Lewis’ family instilled in her a love of nature, she was discouraged from pursuing an artistic career. Instead she sought out other avenues to be involved in the arts, which eventually led her to own a gallery in Ferndale, California. Here, she represented internationally acclaimed artists including a naturalist who painted various bird species. Quinn Lewis subsequently “learned her birds” not through ornithology or intense bird watching, but through art. Ultimately, she closed the gallery to pursue her passion. She began by painting still lifes in a simplistic, restrained style akin to Asian art, which had long inspired her. “I’ve always been enamored with their simplicity, color palette and what little they put in their paintings,” says Quinn Lewis of her favorite Asian artists, which include Utagawa Hiroshige, Uta Maro and Hasegawa Tōhaku. Matched with her fascination and appreciation of birds, this gracefully simplistic style characterizes her paintings, which are now quietly occupied by the majestic feathered creatures.
Quinn Lewis’ most recent inspiration comes from an artist residency in California’s Lassen Volcanic National Park, an experience that allowed her to observe and sketch birds in the wild. For her solo exhibition opening December 15th, the artist introduces new bird species to her work as well as natural outdoor settings inspired by her residency.
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