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Eastern Connecticut State University


Joianne Bittle and Charles Rithcie: Bioluminescence. invitation
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Joianne Bittle / Statement

 

The observation of beetles has been the source of my artwork for the past five years. The first specimen I purchased was a harlequin beetle. Initially, I was attracted to her symmetry of bright patterns, the shape of her body and her delicately placed limbs. This made me intrigued and curious about her place in nature.  I started examining her structure and color closely through a magnifying glass. From this, many new questions began to form. 

On the surface, the anatomy of the leg, joint, head, wing and shell parts of many beetles are very detailed and much more skeletal than any mammal, fish, bird or reptile.  This makes them a perfect object to train your eye for drawing and painting.  Observing beetles allows me to look beyond skin or hair (which is very familiar to humans in daily observations) and understand the most primitive origins of structure. This idea has always been of interest for me, similar to studying and drawing human skeletons—which is unseen but is the core of our bodies.  I am very attracted to how the beautiful segments of the legs fit flawlessly one into the next and create these very formal and geometric shapes in space—which to the eye are linear but are not in reality.  In something so small there lies some of the most complex architecture in nature.  Enlarging the insects in my paintings reflects this idea.

Transparency, reflections, and refractions from the surface of insects are fascinating and challenging to observe.  In most insects, the wings and surface of the shell are made up of thousands of tiny scales, which light bounces off and around, creating the iridescence our eyes see.  How could I translate these effects into paint?  It’s important for me to remember in nature there are certain colors, such as green, that absorb light; therefore, I found it interesting to try and create the insect so that it appears to be emitting light from within, creating a powerful spiritual association. I place the beetle on a flat, gold background.  Removing the environment to study the figure is a scientific gesture; but the use of gold is a spiritual symbol, making reference to the backgrounds of religious altarpieces in Byzantine and Renaissance times, and also to even more ancient traditions, like the Egyptians.

In my observations, many insects—especially beetles—are feared, mainly, because of their small size and quietness. Their armor-like shell (or exoskeleton) overlays their inner organs for protection, hiding these places, so it is extremely hard for us to understand where their eyes and mouthparts are placed.  We cannot see them well unless we magnify and observe them extremely closely.  I am attracted to the idea of something so small having so much importance as a symbol in a culture.  The beetle has been glorified and worshiped because of its form, strength, jewel-like color, diversity, social behavior, and its ability to adapt to its environment.  Often their traits have been associated with divinity and royalty.  In these paintings, I want the outcome to convey a synthesis of these ideas.