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Penelope Gottlieb

About Penelope Gottlieb

Penelope Gottlieb's recent paintings appropriate a methodology common to both Surrealism and the Baroque, namely the linking together of heterogeneous, diverse order of things. Painting directly over pre-existing Audubon prints, Gottlieb literally envelops the birds in a tightly woven braid of plant leaves, tendrils, and tentacles, so that what would normally be part of the birds' natural habitat has suddenly turned on them as a form of domestic colonization. Her work has been exhibited in numberous galleris and museums, and is in the permanent colections of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Nevada Museum of Art, National Museum of Wildlife Art, 21c Museum, Palm Springs Art Museum and Chicago Art Institute. Her work is in numberous private collections, including the Wellington Management art collection.

Click on the images below to view Penelope Gottlieb's artwork available for sale at this year's show.

Artist Statement

RECLAIMING NATURE: THE INVASIVE PLANT SERIES

The “Invasive Plant” series appropriates and significantly alters existing print plates from the John James Audubon archive. In these paintings, I reconsider the iconic 19th century imagery by girdling the Audubon birds with tightly woven bands of invasive plant species. The images stage an invasion of this historical imagery, enacting the ravages of a contemporary ecological phenomenon wherein non-native species are introduced into an environment and overtake the balance of its delicate ecosystem. By problematizing the renowned ornithologist’s idyllic representations of natural history, I present a revisionist vision of nature in its current state of compromise and literal bondage.

This project evolved from my recent series of images based on the re-imagining of extinct plants. The imagery for the botanical extinction works was created primarily in the absence of existing visual specimens or documentation, and thus became a project of resurrecting loss through absentia. Through a combination of research and logical reconstruction, I recreated these lost botanicals as a sort of visual requiem. Throughout the course of my research, I became aware of the invasive plants as a significant environmental problem, and sought a way to represent this issue. This eventually led me to a revisitation of Audubon’s prints, and a reconsideration of its historical imagery. In both projects I augment and denaturalize the representation of “nature” through a juxtaposition of dissonant techniques, signs, and symbols to indicate the presence of a critical consciousness.

John James Audubon occupied a complex position vis a vis the natural world he sought to capture, and the taxonomy he made his life’s work. Audubon and other naturalists of his era routinely consumed the nature they documented. Famously, Audubon said that “a day without shooting a hundred birds is a day wasted.” In order to have models for his images, Audubon stuffed bird carcasses with wire and cotton and posed the temporary taxidermy into “lifelike” positions. The painful paradox of Audubon’s work remains that his wonderful images of nature relied on its ghoulish and insatiable exploitation. The invasion of these Audubon images became an apt metaphor for the representation of this ecological issue. The “Invasive Species” works become layered metafictions that self-consciously draw attention to both the invasive attitudes of human annexation, and to the ecological crisis of invasive species - an undeniable result of human activity that itself enacts the consumption of its worst exponent: man.

In these new hybrid works, Audubon’s stuffed birds become stand-ins for the self, and for the fragility of life under environmental siege. The birds are strangled by the growth that overtakes them, and become visibly subjugated by an external force. I have added several other iconographic elements to these images, the most unusual of which being a number of kinbaku knots. Kinbaku is the Japanese art of erotic knot tying; literally a form of man-made bondage. I have also included some non-invasive plants from my own garden, as well as signs and symbols in the form of vanitas, much as I have done in my extinct plant paintings.

The works unfold gradually, with several competing layers of information. The elements of beauty, unease, and surprise coexist in order to draw the viewer into an active reading of this literally colonized image space. The titles I have given to each of the paintings are simply the names of the invasive plant species depicted. In many instances, I have painted the invasive plant’s name over the original caption on the print, literally overwriting the existing history as presented by Audubon.

It is my intention with this body of work to awaken some of the conflicting feelings that lie hidden beneath the surface of our inherent attitudes, and those inured by our inherited representations of nature and history. In this way, these altered plates seek to compel a more critical understanding of our world, and of the roles we play as artists and as people living in it.

Past Artwork


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