Jhenna Quinn Lewis: Haiku of Birds
November 30, 2018 - Kelly Skeen
The minimalist paintings of Oregon artist Jhenna Quinn Lewis are inspired by Japanese painting and print making aesthetics including flat patterning, simple arrangements and understated elegance. Most recently, Lewis’ Asian influences have extended from visual artists such as Utagawa Hiroshige, Utamaro and Hasegawa Tōhaku to include writers and poets, most notablyMatsuo Bashō – the master of haiku poetry. To create her latest body of work Lewis revisited her collection of Japanese art books that have held significant inspiration for her work over the years. A book of Bashō’s haikus particularly stood out and captivated Lewis, leading her to devise a poetic theme for her solo exhibition, “Haiku of Birds.”
“Haiku poetry is synonymous with my style of composition and work,” says Lewis, whose aesthetic directly aligns with the simple, rhythmic cadence of haiku. Lewis found that while Basho’s poetry is written in a restrained style, his words and phrases illicit beautiful images and ideas. Lewis paints in a similar way, juxtaposing simplistically arranged compositions with ornately detailed subjects. In “Haiku of Birds,” Lewis’ highly refined birds perch on stacked books or decorated Asian boxes against subdued backgrounds, which are often patterned in a style akin to Asian screens. Each painting is perfectly balanced with an emphasis on negative space matching the structured, direct expression of a haiku poem. In this exhibition, Lewis hopes that her paintings and their titles may act as a springboard for the viewer to write their own freeform haiku poems.
Even though Lewis’s aesthetic favors simplicity, her birds are meticulously detailed and represent a very specific species. Finches, orioles, woodpeckers, tanagers and more can be recognized in her latest paintings. While her vision is quiet and minimalist, Lewis’ process is deceivingly complex. She typically has six or seven pieces in process at once, and each painting consists of at least 12 layers of paint and varnish. In several of her new works, Lewis’ birds are backlit by a smoky glow or hazy orange light, an effect of her extensive layering technique as well as a subconscious influence from recent forest fires in the west. Adding varnish between each layer of paint gives her final work a translucent, atmospheric quality that provides a feeling of peaceful clarity for the viewer.
Preview new paintings by Jhenna Quinn Lewis on our website and join us on Friday, December 14th from 5-7pm for the opening of “Haiku of Birds.”
-Kelly Skeen, Arts Writer
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