The Bird is the Word

Stosh Machek “UrKrow” Graphite on Photo Paper
having rescued their wounded, & tended their dead, & rendered them upon altars in my mind; what little magic i recognize is krow-shaped
…not crow, not raven, but some ur-corvid, the carrion scavenger, the imagined omen-bringer, the rude & clever watcher w/ it’s black feathers swallowing the morning light,
jester, seer, saint & sin itself
if you look at krow & see magic, that’s understandable, they seem wise beyond their form, & of course they do know things that we can not, as all animals do …personally i have been close to them in situations where magic was not in evidence at all, & then at other times when i can not explain what i believe i saw in any other way …krow is a jester who laughs at you; you think they are wise, & they think that’s funny
…kaaa! kaaa! kaaa!
…krow does krow things; they scavenge carrion, & you, seeking magic, as humans are wont, see them as a bridge from this world to the next, whereas what they see, is just
a nice meal

The Bird is the Word

by Kristine Schomaker

I am afraid to fly.
I’ve always admired Birds for their ability to soar.
THAT is what I want to do.

Birds have always held a fascinating place in different cultures. From religion to art to cinema to politics, birds have been a symbol of hope, death, desire, courage, rebirth, power, wisdom, transformation, happiness, and peace. They bring us laughter and joy, comfort and security. They sit on our shoulders as if they were a part of our psyche telling us whether we should be good or bad.

We have grown up with Fawkes, Hedwig, Donald Duck, Roadrunner, Woodstock, Tweety, Big Bird, Foghorn Leghorn, Woody Woodpecker, Chicken Little, Mother Goose, Angry Birds, Opus, The Ugly Duckling, and so many more whose tales, fables and nursery rhymes taught us about life.

It is no wonder that they continue to be a fascination for many artists.

Barrie Goshko “Under the Twinkle of a Fading Star” Mixed Media Drawing
Why birds?
Because they are among us. They watch us. They reflect us. They judge us. Similar to trees, they bear witness. But unlike trees, they express themselves with an urgency, a connection to NOW that we would be wise not to disregard.
I don’t think I made a conscious effort initially to draw birds. I found them in the pages of my journals several years ago while sorting through old sketches. There they were, a multitude of birds flying through the pages, standing around looking bored on a white page, involved in their environments or gazing out at me knowingly. At the time, my morning sketches came almost exclusively from my imagination, memory, dreams—unplanned. Perhaps these birds were messengers from the universe.
Since then, I have intentionally drawn birds both real and imagined. I often employ them as my messengers to express feelings and thoughts, share my inner world and comment on the outer one. In a dark world with a personal tendency toward depression they have come to be a symbol of hope for me, proof of the beauty and fragility of life. “Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul.” —Emily Dickinson. My soul often needs this reminder.
They possess a lightness. They can FLY. They build beautiful homes for their families. They nurture. They protect. They kill. They scavenge. They survive. And they SING. They possess such diversity. Some dress like frumpy housewives and some like exotic drag queens. They’re beautiful, comical, terrifying, and inspiring to watch. They scold me. They serenade me. And sometimes they even seem to pose for me.

Andre Yi “Gunnison Sage Grouse” Ink, Gouache, Wood, Matches on Paper
Most of the birds I am creating drawings/collages of are birds that are on the endangered or extinct avian species list as classified by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Birds have been the cause of fascination and worshipped as deities, but birds have also been seen as omens, talismans, and harbingers of death. Birds have been used to determine unsustainable environments, such as the canary in the coal mine. I find this role for birds interesting, as birds have also been the “canary in the coal mine” for our changing climate and environment. What their endangerment and extinction brings may be the harbinger of death for our own planet and species.

Jodi Bonassi “Dawn’s Paradise” Mixed media on canvas
The birds as subject matter has been building for many years. For over three decades People in places of communal exchange was my main work but I often added animals to suggest the alter ego. Over the years animals became more predominant in the work, representing people but also the socio political landscape and the spirit. I was moving towards birds as a series right before the pandemic. After the shut down I made the complete change to just birds and nature to find serenity and peace in my life. It is also a process to inspire others to create meaningful moments for their time here. I wish my work to bring healing and renewal to those seeking it.

Linda Okazaki, “Birds Take Flight” Mixed Media
“Birds take flight” shows the birds departing from the Valley of Love. This is a reference to The Conference of the Birds, a 12th century epic poem by Persian poet Farid Ud-Din Attar. This story recounts how the Hoopoe bird and about thirty other birds complete the arduous journey through seven valleys of quest, love, insight, detachment, unity, bewilderment, poverty and nothingness to eventually meet the King, the Great Simorgh. The final valley is where the travelers are no longer confined by linear time but exist in the past, present and future at the same time. This ending is an understanding of time and space that I find worthy of a thematic focus for consideration today. Birds have appeared in my paintings as a conduit of unspoken thoughts since the early 70’s.

Debbie Korbel “As the Crow Flies” Cardboard, Mixed Media
I created this piece during lockdown when we were all “caged.” I thought making a sculpture that represented the ability to fly free seemed appealing. I chose a crow because of both its positive and negative associations. Because of its black color and penchant for carrion, it has been seen as a bad omen; a harbinger of death–something we had seen so much of during Covid. However, conversely, the crow has also been used as a positive symbol of mystery, change and transformation.

Bibi Davidson “Panic in Pandemic” Acrylic on Wood Panel
Planet earth is inhabited with so many different and wonderful beings, we are all limited by our physical shape, we are all having different thoughts, different abilities. Birds symbolize the ability to float above and see the world from that high point of view, We can only see what besides us. I love birds, they are everywhere, singing, flying, talking bird language. Every morning birds are waiting for me next to my door, to be fed. I wish humans could see the whole picture from above, instead of pushing each other nonstop through all times.

Debby and Larry Kline “Great Auk from The series, Project Extinction” Ink on paper
We have a series that we work on based on James J. Audubon’s giant Double Elephant Folio, Birds of America. Audubon documented as many American birds that he could find in his lifetime. He was an avid hunter but appreciated the diversity, abundance and beauty of birds. He often would kill the birds, position them in such a manner that they looked alive and then document them in drawings and paintings. He often failed as many of the images look awkward, staged and stiff. His book, completed in 1838, still became a resource for study and enjoyment of birds throughout the decades. His paintings were often completed by a team of craftspeople and the folio is now regarded as one of the world’s most valuable book, which once sold in London for over 11 million dollars. We picked up his pen and have followed with images of birds that are now extinct. Because of hunting, casual sport and loss of habitat the birds are disappearing rapidly. Through a residency with he San Diego Natural History Museum we learned that many of these birds still exist for study, but only rarely in the drawers of history museums. We used photographs that we took of their collection and incorporated them into our images. Building from Audubon’s original imagery and the unnatural positioning of birds, we incorporated images of the dead birds. complete with toe tags (Museum ID number, etc.) into to the new cautionary images of extinction. In other images we include the horrific stories of the birds’ last stand.

Hilary Baker “Heron, Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum” Acrylic on Linen
Because birds were here long before man built monuments to consumerism and excess, they deserve our respect and protection. If we can co-exist with the creatures who share our city, then we enhance our future. Above all, a city is little more than streets and buildings until brought to life by ALL its inhabitants.

L. Aviva Diamond “Bird Series #5 – Grasping” Archival Pigment Print
We barely pay attention to so many things we see. They become backdrop, part of the din – water, leaves, birds on wires. And yet, when we look closely, there is treasure. I love birds, and I see so much symbolism in the fleeting moments of their behavior. Bowing, flying, grasping, spreading wings, dropping feathers. They resonate with me on so many levels. I reduce them to their simplest elements and love the minimalism, the purity of line and moment. And honestly, I’ve always wanted to fly.

Palmer Earl “Revenge of The Great Bird Goddess” Acrylic on Canvas
Birds represent a humanly unattainable freedom that I have always been envious of. Their vast ranges in color and the otherworldly luminosity of feathers fascinate me, and I love the challenge of painting them. Every feather has specific color shifts from bold to barely perceptible.

Sandra Vista “Crow Cotillion 2016” Acrylic and Collage
One of the reasons I started using birds in my work began about twelve years ago when I met a woman who was wearing a t-shirt with a crow image. When I admired it she said: “…the crows fed Jesus…”. This communication had a tremendous impact on me and inspired me to create drawings with crows. I have used crows in my work prior to ongoing the collage series of 2016-. The previous crow drawings were drawn from the Native American Medicine Wheel in which “Crow Medicine” refers to the keeper of sacred laws. The crow can shapeshift-take on many forms. Their wisdom and knowledge is evident in their appearance. They are like three-dimensional shadows. The Crow Collage Series which began in 2016 currently consists of 10 collages consisting of cut out paper crows that have been repainted with acrylic paint and applied to black drawing paper. Each collage has multiple crows interacting and communicating with eachother.

Stacie Birky Greene “Endangered: Mangrove Humming Bird with Sonogram” mixed media oil on canvas
Over the past decade my work has focused on birds that are endangered or have gone extinct since 1970 (around the passing of the Endangered Species Act). I’ve taken on this project in hopes of drawing attention to their plight and the connection we all have in what is happening to our planet. I’m working on four series relating to that theme. The endangered and some of the critically endangered birds I’m drawing on paper made out of my junk mail. This series I think of as hopeful in that we still have a chance to save these creatures. The extinct and the critically endangered birds with 100 or less individuals I draw on small wooden rectangles that are then tiled to form a mosaic – a fragmented image representing a lost species. I think of this series as the past and present as these birds have either already disappeared or are in the process of disappearing. The specimen drawer series uses reclaimed wooden drawers, junk mail, and other mixed media to produce a dark future when the species represented will no longer exist in the world. All that will remain are their skins, preserved nests, and eggs. With the oil paintings of endangered and critically endangered birds I have incorporated elements from their habitats as well as sonograms of their calls.

Crystal Jean Baranyk “Fire Season” Scratchboard and Oil Paint
“F*** you.” I blinked. Even though I’d already heard many swear words by the time I was five or six my young ears perked up and grew pink. I’d been staring at a crow in a cage silently willing it to look at me with interest. I longed to make friends with it, to connect in the way that meant something, and here it had sworn at me.
Someone else in the nature center walked by. “Hello,” the crow crooned coyley, and then turned to eye me before bursting out into an odd cackle followed by emergency sirens. I felt a short stab of jealousy. The nature center and small park was located next to a police station so it made sense that the crow would make these noises. The crow then decided to ignore me, even as I continued to stare up at it hoping it would talk again.
This likely wasn’t the first time I began to think about how we relate to birds and nature, but it was certainly one of my most profound experiences with our avian counterparts. Here was a creature so smart that it could talk, or at least mimic. And the way it cocked it’s head and looked at me left me feeling a little off balance. Yet, it’s life would be spent mostly in a cage.
When I put birds in my work, I put them there because they represent our spontaneous connection to nature. They often interact with humans and other animals by choice. They sound alarms, they ask for food, they eat unwanted insects, spread seeds, and restore balance. They play and sing, and harass and have any number of other behaviors that we understand deeply. When we step outside, regardless of where we live, there is likely a bird watching us, even when we do not notice. They are an inescapable part of life, so woven into the fabric of life that it might be easy to overlook their impact on the world and the trophic chain in general. When I include birds in my art, it is to reflect my connection to the “other,” the nature that includes us, but is also distinct from us, the nature that I’m constantly willing to touch in some deeply meaningful way, but also feel hopelessly inept in my attempts to do so.

David Palmer “Hummingbird 35” Acrylic on Canvas
There’s a vine with orange flowers outside our dining room window that the hummingbirds love. They hover almost motionless in the air, feeding on its pollen. This is an ability they take for granted, of course, but to us it seems like magic. Seeing them is a great reminder not to undervalue the things we are good at just because they come so naturally to us.

Gail Werner “Rock Wren VI” Oil and Pencil on Wood Panel
The three tribes that I descend from—Cupeño, Luiseño, and Kumeyaay—are located in north San Diego County. My work is a reflection on the Southern California desert and mountain landscapes, as well as the creation stories and traditional songs, called Bird Songs, that are sung throughout this area.
These stories and songs tell about how the world came to be and how the people came to be where they are. The Bird Songs tell about the journey of the people, which is said to parallel the migration of the birds. My understanding is that they also tell about what the birds, or people, see on their journey. In my mind, they see the mountains, deserts, night sky, and other landmarks. I use paint, color, and images expressively. Rather than illustrating a particular song or story, I try to evoke a sense of journey and place.
I think about my connection to the land through my ancestors who have lived here for thousands of years. I think about our connection to the land through our stories and songs.

Katherine Kean “Bird by BIrd 11” Oil on Linen
I’m fascinated with birds as both metaphor for the unfettered soul, for their own intrinsic beauty and capabilities, and for their very strangeness, their otherness. In my “Bird by Bird” series, I am drawn to the way their flocking creates beautiful patterns. How at a particular time at the end of the day, many types of birds gather in large numbers and swoop back and forth across the sky, emerging from the dusk like a dark cloud and creating elegant patterns against the fading light. How and why they do this is a mystery, but whatever the reason, this behavior is compelling to observe as individual birds disappear into the whole and become part of something larger.

Lisa Adams “In Anticipation of Aberrancy” oil and spray paint on panel
Ten years ago I depicted birds in various situations in my work. I no longer do, but at the time their behavior fascinated me and how mean they are to each other. In the early 1990s I casually started bird watching and in 2010, outside the window of my DTLA space,
I had a giant home-made bird feeder. Birds are not the sweet, pretty things they appear to be. I was also amazed at how many different kinds of birds there are and each one looked like a tiny design project to me. I have since exhausted exploring them in my work but I still pay attention to birds.

Nina Camplin “Painting” Acrylic on tissue paper
I have always had a fascination with crows and ravens. Probably stemming from my misspent youth when I was really into dark and gothic stuff. I grew out of most of it, but the corvids stuck with me as I learnt more about them, how they are highly intelligent, they live much longer than any household pets and I am intrigued by the symbolism associated with them, such as harbingers of death, etc. I don’t know how many times I have painted them, I even include them into many of my murals if I get a chance, I have included a pic of me posing with one of the murals.

Suvan Geer “Glance” Video Installation
My artwork examines the ephemeral to explore time. Because all birds are descendants of dinosaurs, to me they embody an enduring, living and ongoing past. In all my installations and objects where I use their image, feathers or nests the reference to birds forms a subliminal allegory about fugitive time.
An example is my video installation “Glance” (image attached), where an 8 min. video loop is projected onto fluttering cloths. The loop shows a stream of fleeting images, among them a repeating glimpse of birds flying quickly out of sight. The “Glance” video is a dreamlike waltz of ephemeral visual motion tethered by sights barely noticed or swiftly forgotten. In the installation’s room the central moving cloths are framed by a cluster of suspended bird cages. In each is a small garden bell replacing a caged bird. Each bell actively chimes because of an oscillating fan so that the transitory experience of each viewing is forever unique.

2 comments

  1. This is a beautiful collection! Or is this a flock, a menagerie? I recently heard that human ears actually are not best in the auditory range of other humans, but the frequency for hearing is actually best for birds! Because where there are birds, humans are likely to also survive, so it is thought our ears hear birdsong better than human speech for that reason.

Leave a Reply to Heather Lowe Cancel reply