Birds of the City

Putting aside the odd park and a dreaded pigeon swooping in to steal your sandwich from your hand or leave a messy present atop your head, nature can be hard to find in cities. Sure, you can visit a zoo or take a trip out to the countryside every once in a while, but if you live in the middle of a sprawling metropolis, the chances are that your interactions with the native flora and fauna are few and far between. It’s not all that unusual to find a city kid with no idea what the connection might be between cows and the white liquid they put on their cereal every morning…

Image: http://canewspodcast.com/2013/11/30/podcast-canadian-pigeons-for-sale/
Image:
http://canewspodcast.com/2013/11/30/podcast-canadian-pigeons-for-sale/

One British artist is on a mission to remind city-dwellers of the nature that used to occupy the places where concrete buildings and tarmac roads now stand. He specifically wants to draw public attention to the British birds that are now endangered because their habitats are being destroyed. And he has come up with a novel way of doing this: he is painting striking, detailed, three-metre-tall images of these birds on walls and buildings in London. Not quite your average graffiti.

ATM, Painting of a jay on a wall in London. Image: www.theguardian.com
ATM, Painting of a jay on a wall in London.
Image: www.theguardian.com

All of ATM’s paintings are of birds that were native to the London area, before the city pushed them out. The graffiti artist’s beautiful works both brighten up bland, desolate areas of London and at the same time, serve as a reminder to its inhabitants of the natural world we are a part of, even if we can sometimes forget it. Across the pond in New York, another artist famous for his depictions of birds is being celebrated in the second of a three-part exhibition series. The New York Historical Society is paying tribute to John James Audubon’s paintings of the birds of the US.

John James Audubon, Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos), Havell plate no. 181, 1833. Watercolour, pastel, graphite, black ink, and black chalk with touches of gouache and selective glazing on paper, laid on card, 96.8 x 64.8 cm (paper), 134.6 x 99.1 cm (mat). New-York Historical Society, New York.
John James Audubon, Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos), Havell plate no. 181, 1833.
Watercolour, pastel, graphite, black ink, and black chalk with touches of gouache and selective glazing on paper, laid on card, 96.8 x 64.8 cm (paper), 134.6 x 99.1 cm (mat).
New-York Historical Society, New York.

Almost 200 years ago, Audubon too was drawing attention to the rich selection of birds native to his adopted country, and the need to protect and cherish them. You can see his spectacular watercolours for yourself in the exhibition Audubon’s Aviary: Parts Unknown at the New-York Historical Society, New York until 26 May 2014. To read more about this fantastic painter of birds, have a read of Audubon’s Birds, with text by the artist himself, alongside his most impressive works.

G.A.

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