A public garden & cultural center

Joianne Bittle Knight

A Royal Family
Sunroom Project Space | October 19–December 2, 2007

Jewel Beetle (Ventral View), 2007, graphite on paper, 44 x 90 1/2 inches. Courtesy of the artist.

Joianne Bittle Knight presents the fourth painting in her Royal Family series, alongside a large, meticulously rendered graphite drawing. Both works, which feature exquisitely detailed portraits of a Southeast Asian jewel beetle, are the result of six years of ongoing observation of beetle specimens. The painting, which employs multiple layers of over-painting and sanding to create a rich, luminous surface, is composed over three canvases and arranged like an altarpiece. Coupled with Bittle Knight’s flat, gold background, these panels effectively reference religious icons of the Byzantine and Renaissance periods as well as totems from ancient Egypt.

At the same time, the artist is interested in the contemporary context of her subject matter as well. Noting that beetles, while often feared in North America, are used to make jewelry and other art objects in Malaysia and Thailand, Bittle Knight intends for her reverential treatment of the beetle to allude to the insect’s associations with divinity and royalty in other parts of the world. In this way, she mines the complex architecture of the insect’s anatomy to examine cultural perceptions of beauty and unfamiliarity, and to reveal the vulnerability and dignity of the jewel beetle itself.

A Royal Family, 2007, oil and wax on canvas, 54 x 84 inches. Courtesy of the artist.

 Artist website

The Arts at Wave Hill are supported by the Lily Auchincloss Foundation, Inc.; Michael J. Shannon; Milton and Sally Avery Arts Foundation; the National Endowment for the Arts; New York City Department of Cultural Affairs; New York Community Trust Edward and Sally Van Lier Fund; New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature; The Pollock-Krasner Foundation; The Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation; and by the Cathy and Stephen Weinroth Commissioning Fund for the Arts.