Today in a fit of nostalgia I have been thinking about Blue Ducks (or Whio) and a small part of my life spent following them (and their trackers) around mountain rivers.
Birds seem to feature largely in NZ art, or is that just me…? Of course Dr Buller was one of the first documentors and I grew up with his book of birds, although J. G. Keulemans was the illustrator. There was even a play “Dr Buller’s Birds“. Its a pity Buller collected skins but I guess it means we do have “examples” of extinct species.
Blue Duck and Scaup from Birds of New Zealand, 1888. (Buller)
More contemporaily, I can think of Raymond Ching, Don Binney and Bill Hammond who have used birds rather centrally to their work. What does it all mean?
Whio and the Dance of Extinction -Ray Ching
I found this well reported ‘fact’ about Hammond “As a result of this trip to The Auckland Islands and his interest in macabre aspects of the taxidermist’s trade as evidenced in the book “Buller’s Birds of New Zealand”, Hammond began producing his haunting world of half-human, half-bird creatures. And it is this original parallel world that has captured the imagination of so many New Zealanders’“
However more interesting is a discussion of the significance of the birds here with reference to Binney and Buller.
“With his bird paintings Hammond has stepped into the spotlight in New Zealand art, tapping into the national psyche’s obsession with native birds…colonial history, and Kiwiana. Buller was not the only precedent. The regional modernist Don Binney achieved prominence and popularity in the 60’s and 70’s depicting birds soaring over landscapes, symbolising triumphal national identity as much as individual spiritual transcendence. The kiwi itself, a flightless, nocturnal, clumsy, unattractive, and increasingly-endangered bird, is a decidedly-peculiar choice of national icon, and Hammond’s stiff, upright, Egyptian-looking humanoid birds, always in profile, theoretically capable of flight but never flying, allude to that indirectly. ” (my emphasis)
Watching for Buller- Bill Hammond
So are we “kiwis” doomed to be earth-bound, only dreaming of flight?
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