September 15, 2021

Flightless Birds

         We just had some block prints of birds printed in three dimensions so that they could soar (or at least dangle) in the air.  Today we have a selection of flightless birds.  Spanning more than 4 centuries and a range of styles, what these birds have in common is that they aren’t your typical fluttering flyers.
        We begin with the ostrich, and this wonderfully floofy example comes from the mid-sixteenth century, from Conrad Gesner’s Historia animalium.  I love how the feathers are a big pompom, going in every direction and with no indication of wings at all.  A fun detail for those interested in the science is that this ostrich appears to have external ears.  A fun detail for those interested in the printmaking is that the tail feathers are a little crushed down at their tips in order to fit them onto the wood block.
        The ostrich and the emu have traded in flight in favor of running.  The emu hails from Australia, as does this depiction of it.  Emus' feathers are not as fluffy as ostriches’ (which was probably lucky for them, as they didn’t get put on hats), but otherwise the two birds are everyone’s favorite example of convergent evolution.  My favorite thing about this piece by Gladys Reynell is the two little emu chicks scurrying along with their attractive stripes.
        The penguin, by contrast, has traded in flight in favor of swimming, and this piece by Rick Allen is a great evocation of the penguin’s streamlined athleticism when underwater.  I love the texture of the swoosh and the bubbles.
        As for the dodo and the kiwi, they traded in flight for having no predators, which was great, until the predators showed up.  We all know the sad fate of the dodo, but this linocut is not sad at all.  It’s a bright, cheerful, fun bird, with bright, cheerful, fun feathers in a variety of patterns and colors.  It looks like Richard Bawden used three blocks in making this print: the background, the leaves, and the bird.  The background and bird were then each inked with multiple colors on a single block.
        We end with one of my favorite artists depicting one of my favorite birds.  Jacques Hnizdovsky has perhaps made his kiwi a bit too tidy - Hnizdovsky does incredibly controlled, geometrically precise prints, while kiwis tend to be a bit like messy mops - but he has captured beautifully the kiwi’s benevolent expression 
and magnificent whiskers.
        Sure, we humans tend to idolize and long for flight, but as far as these birds are concerned, who needs it?

[Pictures: De Struthocamelo, wood block print from Historia animalium by Conrad Gesner, c 1555 (Image from Smithsonian Magazine);

Diving Penguin, wood engraving by Rick Allen (Image from Kenspeckle Letterpress);

Emu, linocut by Gladys Reynell, early 20th century (Image from Art Gallery New South Wales);

Dodo, linocut by Richard Bawden (Image from Bankside Gallery);

Kiwi, woodcut by Jacques Hnizdovsky, 1975 (Image from WorthPoint).]

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