Monotypes to be shown in Stuttgardt, Germany, by Erin Goodwin-Guerrero

Katherine Levin Lau has painted her friends and self-portraits in a realist style since graduate school at San Jose State University. Situated in strange symbolic circumstances, they speak of life’s challenges, personal struggles and overall, they document her journey as an artist.

Nearly, monotype by Katherine Levin Lau, 2008

For a time the canning jar was prominent in these highly detailed paintings. The canning jar represented the duties and responsibilities that a woman assumes to be thrifty, to save money as well as memories, and to conserve friendships. In one large painting of herself in the studio, Levin Lau appeared somewhat encumbered with a long string of reflective tin pie plates. She reports that when she moved into her current home, neighbors warned her that the birds were very aggressive and in order to save her garden, she would have to take some measures. The flashing string of pie plates was to serve as a scarecrow outside, but ultimately she used all of them as paint palletes in her studio. At that time of her life she was consumed with painting above all else and put a great deal of pressure upon herself to paint in every available moment.

Levin Lau’s monotype 4Eyes

Now, Levin Lau paints the birds in a more intimate relationship with the artist. After the death of her father, and buying a summer retreat in Saranac, New York, she feels less harried and takes time to actually talk to the birds in the woods of upstate New York. She takes educational nature walks and learns the names of the birds. She still paints herself and many of the same friends into her works, along with the birds and their tree habitat. She has become interested in the tree as an artery and part of the cycles of life that humans and animals share. Some of the birds she paints have a special meaning; for instance, the cowbird (who lays her eggs in other birds’ nests) refers to the many contemporary challenges to child raising in our global village.

In her upcoming exhibition at the Byrnes Institute in Stuttgardt, Germany, Katherine Levin Lau will be showing monotype self portraits with her birds. When asked if the artists of history who painted so many self-portraits have influenced her own work, she replies, “Of course. But it is also true that artists like Kathe Kollowitz, Rembrandt and Frida Kahlo painted without a readily available model,” as she does. Her ongoing self-examination is clearly part of her reflection on the life cycle, as well.

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