We say that the moon waxes and wanes on a monthly cycle and that the
ocean tides ebb and flow two times each day, but nothing on the earth,
whether geological or biological, is exempt from the forces of expansion
and contraction, the waxing and waning of gravitational forces, and the
constant ebbing and flowing of erosive water. This exhibit was inspired by
the cycles that rule change in the natural world, and our perceptions of
time and impermanence.
Looking up at the moon, I see both the familiar and the unexpected. The
moon is in the realm of mystery and magic. I can sometimes read a face in
those dark dry areas, ironically called "seas." Factually, I know that Luna,
the earth's nearest celestial neighbor, is a satellite so large as to be almost a
sister planet rather than a mere moon. I know about the moon's stabilizing
effect on the earth's rotation, vital to sustaining life, and I know that the
relative position of the moon drives the oceans' tides. I know that many
creatures live, proliferate, and die by the moon's reflected sunlight in her
varied phases. These are facts I know, and yet I intuit that we are all
subject to her unfathomable moods, her silent and ever-present (though
often unseen) observation of all things nocturnal. As the knower of secrets,
might she not also contribute to the madness named for her— Lunacy—to
which artists and other visionaries are so often subject?
In creating these paintings, I have tried to penetrate the moon's impassive
stare, to commune with her mystery and partake of her magic through
imagining how various terrestrial and aquatic creatures might respond to
her changing light and energy throughout her cycles. This eternal return,
exemplified by the rhythm of the moon's phases, has led me to a deeper
reflection on the interweaving phases of life and death, the creation,
destruction, and recreation of all things, and how these cycles are never
ending…like a ring, as round as the moon herself.
Selections from Wax and Wane…Ebb and Flow
(Nihonga). Imagine that crabs of every species gather
on special occasions to greet and entreat their mother, the Moon. She looks
on, bemused, as her children jostle for positions of favor, without concern
for who they may be about to crush.
Grasshopper Mouse vs. Scorpion
(Nihonga). Doing research on
scorpions I found their most unlikely nemesis: the Grasshopper Mouse,
North America's only carnivorous mouse. Here we see a triumphant
Grasshopper Mouse howling at the moon (really true) after decimating a
scorpion, whose remains we see in a nearby pile. The mouse is immune to
scorpion venom, and another scorpion cowers under some prickly pears,
fearful of a fate like his brother's.
Tide Pool 1
(Nihonga). A temperate tidepool at ebbtide.
Soon all will be revealed.
(Nihonga). Picture a mother sea serpent taking a leisurely
swim at dawn, accompanied by a rather rebellious child sea serpent. Many
underwater creatures made sure to be seen and uncovered by the artist!
(Nihonga). An interpretation of a classic Sumi painting subject,
but with more turbulence and more whitewater.
(Nihonga). An octopus cultivates her coral reef garden
under the moonlit surface, in hope of attracting an unwary fish.
Triumphant at last! This time her anemones will get the crumbs.
(Nihonga). This Luna Moth has recently emerged from her
cocoon and is still drying her wings. She clings to a hydrangea in the
bottom of the garden, where a slug eats moss growing on a discarded
bottle, as other garden creatures go about their business.
(Nihonga). Let many flowers bloom. All are connected.
Luna Moth Rendezvous
(Teppachi). Luna Moths spend most of their
time in the larval stage when they fatten up for the metamorphosis to
come. They have no way to eat and once they emerge from their cocoon
they have about one week to meet Mr. Right. After a night of romance, the
female lays her eggs and dies. The male then searches for another female
until his reserves are gone as well.
Rush to the Sea
(Nihonga). Instinct drives the leatherback sea turtle
hatchlings toward the light and the sea. One baby turtle pauses to survey
the scene before (we hope) continuing the headlong rush with her siblings
toward the relative safety of the surf. Why does she hesitate? Keep going!
(Encaustic). Imagine a pond so filled with flowers that the
pond itself becomes invisible.
Waves 1 and 3
from a series of 4 (Encaustic). Hokusai was an inspiration
for this series, but these small waves will not create a tsunami..
Materials and Methods
For the majority of these paintings, I have used a Japanese Nihonga
-inspired water media technique which is based on Rinpo, a 17th century
decorative painting style which focused on finding and portraying the
essential nature of the natural world. Nihonga itself was a Meji-period
revival and was a reaction to the rapid proliferation of western painting
techniques and styles in the early 20th century. Interestingly, at about the
same time, western artists, notably Redon and the Nabis as well as a
number of early expressionists were inspired by Japanese art and
experimented with Nihonga/distemper painting techniques, most often in
Today, many contemporary Japanese artists are painting Nihonga, in both
traditional true-to-nature styles as well as more personal and abstract
styles. To say that something is Nihonga currently is to categorize it more
by the materials and techniques employed than by the subject matter or
the artist's personal style. Due to the unique properties of the materials
used, to develop real competence in the technique requires deep study
under the guidance of a master, so what you see here are really only Nihonga-inspired works in my own style.
The materials essential to painting Nihonga are natural mineral pigments
of various particle sizes, which are mixed individually with water and an
animal glue binder (also called distemper). The paint is applied in layers
on a wooden panel that has been covered with a strong paper. The animal
glue is a strong enough binder to hold even coarse particles in place, so
that the finished pieces are quite textured and also reflect the facets of the
many tiny crystals that comprise the semi-precious pigments. I have
commonly used lapis lazuli, azurite, malachite, and cinnabar in these
paintings. The particles remain separate but create a unique sort of visual
For several pieces I used Teppachi, a type of Japanese watercolor related
to Nihonga, which also uses animal glue in addition to acacia gum binder,
but with very finely ground pigments, similar to gouache, but more
translucent than gouache and yet much more heavy bodied than western
The rest of the pieces chosen for this show consist of an ink painting on
paper mounted on panel, oil on panel, and the balance of the works were
done in encaustic painted on panel, and utilizing my own personal shellac
Tide Pool 2: Decorator Crab
Steals Fish from Anemone (Nihonga).
An anemone has captured a fish but the decorator crab would
like it for his own dinner, and a brutal fight ensues. Who will prevail?