Monday, June 29, 2015

Stephanie Pui-Mun Law: Immortal Ephemera

I'll be honest with you: I don't know what "ephemera" means. It doesn't really come up in daily conversation for me. In fact, I think Stephanie may be the first person I know that actually used the word in my presence, or rather, in an email sent to me about four or five months ago.

After her wildly successful show in March 2014, I asked her to show again for 2015, and she readily accepted. Neither of us had any idea what she'd do this time around, but I knew she'd stew it over for a while and something would pop up.

Towards the end of January, I shot her a quick email asking if she finally
decided on a theme for her show. She wrote me and said yes, and then dropped the e-bomb on me. "Ephemera".

It means "things that are enjoyed or used for a very short time". It also means things that last no more than a day. In the case of Stephanie's collection of work, she was clearly meditating on the comparatively short life of insects, one of the Earth's most ancient of creatures. Insects are literally everywhere: earth, air, water, fire (well, maybe not fire). Many of them live in complex societies, produce fibers or honey, weave or build geometric homes and often live such short, basic lives. They are so lowly, yet feature so prominently in our myths and legends.
Immortality, Watercolor
Stephanie pulled and stretched and magnified the insect, often to sizes over 200% larger than life (such as in "When Flowers Dream'). Its as if she meditated on her subject's very soul, dipping into the ink of Life and quilling the results in watercolor pinks and blues. Labyrinths and ghostly trees dapple the landscapes, signifying the mysteries surrounding these critters (what signals their rise and retreat? what is their purpose? who guides them?). Elfin figures appear and recede from sight. There is clearly a magical element being expressed within these compositions beyond just the beauty of these insecta subjects. Stephanie teases out the transcendental qualities through color, texture, and intent.
When Flowers Dream, watercolor and gold leaf
True to form, Stephanie did not abandon her fairy world and created a small series of fairies called "The Hidden Ones", painted on birch wood. Her discovery of absorbent ground (a type of medium that allows you to paint watercolor on any surface) opened up a whole world of possibilities, including  painting on wood, metal, pretty much anything she fancied. Additionally, this medium has enough body to create textures, giving her pieces an extra dimension and allows play with light and shadow (such as with "Immortality" - the butterflies are built up in absorbent ground).
Amidst the Brambles, from "The Hidden Ones" series, watercolor on birch
I always say that art must be seen in person - as difficult as that can be for most of us - and Stephanie's work is no exception. Her work changes with the light, when seen close up or far away, and at different angles. It's luminous and vibrant, yet delicate, like porcelain. She adds elements of surprise into her pieces, much like Easter eggs, and each time one observes her paintings, a new object, element, shape will pop up, giving the composition a whole new life and meaning. Much like "ephemera", I suppose!
Cicada, Watercolor and gold leaf
"Immortal Ephemera" will be open until July 3rd, 2015. Work is available to purchase online or direct, and the online catalog is available through July 4th.

-Julie Baroh, June 2015

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