Sunday 17 December 2017

What Lies Beneath: Cockatoos, Royal Botanical Gardens, Sydney

Cockatoos, Royal Botanical Gardens, Sydney by John Short, Mixed media courtesy Solomon Fine Art

Cockatoos, Royal Botanical Gardens, Sydney by John Short
Cockatoos, Royal Botanical Gardens, Sydney by John Short

Niall MacMonagle

They get up late, they hang around in gangs, they're loud, they strut their stuff. Sound familiar? They mate for life and live for up to 80 years. Hang on, are we still talking about disaffected youths? No, meet cockatoos, especially the wild cockatoos of Sydney, where artist John Short came upon these eye-catching, ear-catching creatures and captured them in this recent painting.

Ireland also features in his new show at Solomon Fine Art until March 25: Swimmers at Seapoint, Forty Foot, Wicklow, Wexford, Connemara currachs. "Coastal activity with the difficulties of reflections and movement," he finds challenging. Studio work is "solitary but absorbing, never lonely" and from there he sends his paintings into the world. His work hangs in Aras an Uachtarain, Panama, Singapore, the US, and Short always sets off with a "have sketchbook, will travel" outlook. He's painted other birds - swans in Bray harbour, gannets and gulls on Saltee Island, cormorants in China - "but cockatoos are amazing and exotic". There's a Cockatoo Island in Sydney Harbour but he came across these in Sydney's Botanical Gardens: "You hear them long before you see them," he says, "they are very characterful, sociable and smart. Visually they perfectly suit their personalities.

They are the wise guys of the Ozzie bird world - opportunistic, charming, confident." He sketched, took photographs, observed their shapes and mannerisms but thinks their "loud startling, screeching call makes them more startling than beautiful; yet the brilliant white plumage, powerful beak, the distinctive sulphur crest make a real character statement". This image contains 28 birds. In the distance are three Jabiru storks but the cockatoos steal the show and Short uses a photo collage because "the locations are important to me and I think deliver a real sense of place.

These cockatoos were captured by me in that specific place". At the top, the photographs lead the eye deep into the distance and lend the piece perspective. In the foreground the dazzling birds on sun-dappled grass are deep in conversation or on the lookout for the next best thing.

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