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Reception: Thursday, September 11, 6pm – 8pm

Morgan Lehman is pleased to present Paradigm, Paul Villinski’s third solo show with the gallery. The exhibition is the culmination of years of study during which Villinski has delved into the biology and lifecycles of his archetypal butterfly motif, emerging with a deep understanding of the parallels between their existence and ours.

The exhibition’s principle sculpture, Self-Portrait, is a life-size figure fabricated from slender steel rods, clothed in fine nylon mesh. Each day, a handful of native butterflies bred by the artist will occupy the enclosed interior volume of the figure. Over the course of the day, the butterflies discover openings in the mesh and exit, causing the figure to slowly exhale its living occupants. The exhibition also includes a series of three circular forms made with the artist’s signature medium of discarded cans, meticulously hand-cut in the forms of over thirty distinct butterfly species – all either endangered or extinct. Finally, the gallery’s Project Space will house Butterfly Machine, a butterfly “breeding laboratory” that Villinski developed in his studio with the guidance of renowned lepidopterist, Rudi Mattoni, Ph.D.

Villinski’s well-known work initially employed the butterfly image as a metaphor for transformation, speaking both to the possibility of converting cast-off materials into things of meaning and beauty and to the butterfly’s universal symbolism of transformation and rebirth.  Over time, the flocks of butterflies became identified with environmental concerns due to the artist’s commitment to up-cycling, or repurposing the discarded. In the last several years, Villinski’s focus on the butterfly’s symbolism has expanded to include an increasing interest in the lifecycles and habitats of the creatures themselves. In 2013, he traveled to the Peruvian Amazon to attend a “Neotropical Lepidoptera Field Course.” Working closely with Dr. Mattoni, the artist has been experimenting with breeding various species of butterflies in the studio. This research has deepened the artist’s understanding of the fragility of the butterfly’s existence; the direct connection between their survival and human actions; and what their plight represents for humanity in the coming decades. Villinski’s installation addresses our profound yet neglected connection to the fragile ecosystem: “There is no separation - what happens to the butterflies happens to us.”

Paul Villinski earned his BFA from the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in 1984. His work has been included in both solo and group exhibitions at the Blanton Museum, Austin, TX; the Berkshire Museum, Pittsfield, MA; the Bellevue Museum of Arts, Bellevue, WA; the Museum of Arts and Design, New York, NY; Rice University Art Gallery, Houston, TX; Ballroom Marfa, Marfa, TX; Wesleyan University’s Zilkha Gallery, Middletown, CT; and the New Museum, New York, NY. Villinski was included in the 2008 New Orleans Biennial, Prospect.1. Villinski’s work is held in the permanent collections of the Museum of Arts and Design, NY; the New Orleans Museum of Art, LA; the Virginia Museum of Fine Art, Richmond, VA, and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Jacksonville, FL, among many others. The artist lives and works in New York City. 

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