Birds of America: Explorations of Audubon at 101/Exhibit

Birds of America: Explorations of Audubon: The Paintings of Larry Rivers and Others. Photo Courtesy of 101/Exhibit.

Birds of America: Explorations of Audubon

The Paintings of Larry Rivers and Others

By Kathy Zimmerer

Through May 13th


Fans of James Audubon’s exquisite large-scale plates in his Birds of America will enjoy Larry Rivers’ loosely painted but spirited renditions of Audubon’s gorgeous illustrations. Painted by Rivers in the 1990s in tribute to the re-release of Audubon’s book, other contemporary artists also were invited to contribute their unique interpretations of Audubon’s birds, ranging from the surrealist to the photorealistic, for this exhibit.

Larry Rivers. Toucan Woodpecker Humming Secretary Birds. Birds of America: Explorations of Audubon: The Paintings of Larry Rivers and Others. Photo Courtesy of 101/Exhibit.

Rivers was an important New York artist who revived figurative expressionism after the advent of Abstract Expressionism.  His work included such witty and incisive paintings as “Washington Crossing the Delaware,” a reimagining of the historic painting by Leutze. His reinterpretation of famous masterpieces were both pop and expressionistic at the same time, but he steered clear of the deadpan commercialization of pop with his luscious painting surfaces where color ruled.  A true Renaissance man, he had multiple talents and was a teacher, jazz musician, filmmaker, television personality, actor, wrote poetry and designed for the stage.

Larry Rivers. Black Necked Stilt. Birds of America: Explorations of Audubon: The Paintings of Larry Rivers and Others. Photo Courtesy of 101/Exhibit.

While Rivers riffs on Audubon’s imagery he manages to crystallize the essence of the image or portrait of each bird much as Audubon did.  While fluidly painted, the Black Necked Stilt has an intriguing oddity to its presence as it balances on one leg, with a three dimensional depth since it is collaged on.  His portrait of Audubon and his dog encompasses the keen intelligence and love of nature that Audubon is famous for, while holding a rifle, a bird perches on his head and his hunting dog by his feet.  This lyrical, flowing portrait is modern yet seems timeless.  Most stunning of his bird paintings is Plumed Partridge, where these brilliantly colored birds with their intricate feathers are silhouetted against an illusory landscape.  Rivers is a genius at outlining their shapes and movement; just as he beautifully captures the contrasting burnt sienna and soft blue of their plumage.  Their life and vitality reverberates across the surface. The proud look of his Double Crested Cormorant can be attributed to Rivers concise portrayal of this bird, whose yellow plumage laid against the black feathers stands out against the sky.  All of his birds have an uncanny presence, such as the Avacet, a kind of sand piper that delicately picks up food with his long beak.  Depicted in a shell pink against the accents of his feathers and beak, Rivers imbues this bird with a dainty walk.

Current prominent artists who have reinterpreted Audubon’s prints with wildly divergent styles augment Rivers’ suite of paintings on the Birds of America.   The California Condor by Tom Sanford shows this prehistoric bird perching on top of the a skull, and a pile of old fast food wrappers and drinks, topped by a beer can, showing the birds precarious hold on life in the midst of an environment overwhelmed by trash.  The power of this huge bird is magnified by the stylized lines and outlined silhouette Sanford uses to create him.   Kent Williams’ Raven is a study in color for a black bird as pinks, blues and yellows dissolve and melt in the bird’s feathers and ground. Paul Paiement’s acrylic, mixed media painting, After Audubon, After River, American Robin is a photorealist tribute to the birds and the American landscape.   Thomas Frontini’s painting, The Brown Pelican, depicts a magnificent bird as it opens it impressive beak, with the latent strength of its wings evident in its volumetric profile.  Shimmering midnight blue envelopes a vase with blue, pink and coral flowers where a bright blue bird perches in Patrick Neal’s still life, Indigo Bird.   The Golden Eagle, in all its regal power, with chilling claws and a sharp beak, is portrayed concisely by Nelson Loskamp.   Whimsy and poetry takes over in Robert Fleisher’s delicate watercolor, Yellow Breasted Chat as tiny birds build a delicate nest among pink flowers.  Darkness overcome Chambliss Giobbi’s collage, Raven, as a pair of wings highlighted against a dark sky gives an ominous cast to the atmosphere.

In these diverse and rich reinterpretations of Audubon’s unique vision, Rivers and contemporary artists have shown the fantastic diversity of American wildlife that is threatened in an alarming way by the current political climate.  Their spotlight on these splendid birds shows just how much we have to lose if we do not fight back.

APRIL 1 – MAY 13 2017


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