up against the bird wall, oil on canvas, 20 cm x 20 cm, a multi-paneled work
up against the bird wall is part of an ongoing exploration into the use of animals in contemporary visual imagery. To summarise my main line of inquiry: if animals are the archetypal cultural other humans use to define themselves, and if our understanding of what it means to be animal shifts, how does this effect our sense of human identity?
up against the bird wall is part of a larger work that will be shown at Maitland Regional Art Gallery in early 2013 as part of an exhibition titled Year of the Bird: a celebration of hybridity. I anticipate that this work will eventually include 100 small paintings of bird related imagery.
I’m interested in how birds are, in environmental terms, quite literally the ‘canary in the mine’, being extremely vulnerable to changes in climate, habitat and diet. I wanted to use this notion of birds as an early warning system and combine it with the conservative genre of wildlife illustration to produce images that spoke just as much about human identity as they did about the traditions of animal representation. To this end, I am currently painting birds that have incorporated aspects of human culture: birds with plastic surgery, obese birds, tattoed and shaved birds, birds wearing high heels and corsets etc.
While humour is a key strategy that informs this work, I also hope that it engages the viewer and provokes consideration of broader environmental and cultural issues. It’s particular function is to ‘question the species barrier’, highlighting our interconnectedness with the non-human animal, and our mutual need for preservation and compassion’.
Helen Hopcroft is an artist and writer who grew up on the island of Tasmania, completed a Fine Arts degree in Hobart and then travelled to London to complete a Masters degree at the Royal College of Art (1992-1994). Returning to Australia to live in 2000, she participated in the Adelaide Festival with a solo exhibition of paintings. One of Helen’s images was used as the 2000 Festival poster (a painting in the collection of Festival Director Robyn Archer) while her poetry was reproduced on Festival merchandise. Her publication list includes Ceramic Art & Perception magazine, the Australian newspaper, Sydney Morning Herald, NAVA quarterly and unsweetened (UNSW literary review). She is currently working on a crime novel set in Newcastle, Australia.