An acrylic painting of an owl in a tree standing over a small glowing house with a neon sign reading "vacancy," with two smaller birds looking in.

“Vacancy,” acrylic on wood, 18 x 24 inches. All images © Gigi Chen, courtesy of Antler Gallery, shared with permission

Drawing on her training in animation and a love for the work of Renaissance painters who expressed symbolism through atmospheric scenes and still lifes, Gigi Chen merges realistic depictions of birds with surreal settings.

In an upcoming exhibition at Antler Gallery in Portland, Oregon, Chen continues to incorporate tiny houses or cottages into the crooks of trees or otherworldly landscapes. She often illuminates neon signs or geometric shapes (previously), juxtaposing the natural wildness of the feathered creatures with elements of the human-built environment, which encroaches on their habitats or makes for peculiar nesting sites.

Many of Chen’s recent works explore the relationship between internal and external experiences, like a pair of tufted titmice peering into a house that reads “vacancy” on the roof. The owl is a tribute to Flaco, a beloved Eurasian eagle-owl that frequented Central Park and other parts of New York City after he had escaped from the zoo. “I was fortunate enough to have seen and photographed him regularly while he was in the Central Park Zoo and then in Central Park,” Chen says. She made the painting “Vacancy” after she first photographed him in the park’s North Woods.

Portraying a desire for a place to call home, the artist channels notions around protection and the preciousness of life, such as the glowing breast of a dead pigeon that lies near a broken pomegranate—a symbol of everlasting life and fertility throughout art history—or large birds of prey looking out for their smaller companions.

Chen’s exhibition, a duo presentation with Erika Sanada, runs from February 29 to March 24. See more on the artist’s website, and follow updates on Instagram.


An acrylic painting of a hawk standing on a rusty, mossy, metal pole, with goldfinches perched below.

“Blue Skies,” acrylic on wood, 16 x 20 inches

An acrylic painting of a dead pigeon on the ground with a red, glowing heart, and a pomegranate nearby in the brush.

“Still + Life,” acrylic on wood, 11 x 14 inches

A tall, blue and white bird perched on a house with a mossy roof. The moss is spreading to the bird's feet, and dragonflies zoom around.

“From The Group Up,” acrylic on wood, 16 x 20 inches

A surreal scene in acrylic of an ornamental building turret with moss and gold leaf, with a large songbird perched on the edge.

“Find Me Under the Lights,” acrylic on wood, 18 x 24 inches

A surreal painted scene of a bluebird peering up at a tiny house with a moss-covered roof, covered in glowing snails.

“Magnolia Dreams,” acrylic on wood, 14.5 x 21.5 inches

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