Wednesday, 13 April 2011


Country Walk, Birdsong 137 x 170 oil on canvas

Birdsong is usually thought of as something beautiful and pleasing, even though it is often  a call of distress or a defence mechanism.  And how does it become 'art'? I wrote about one way of doing this in Blog 347. Something Going on Above My Head (1995-9), then in Tate Britain, brings together the sounds of two thousand birds, creating what the artist calls a ‘sculpture’. For five years, Oswaldo MaciĆ” collected bird calls from international ornithological archives and audio libraries, reworking them into a symphony, scored according to the birds’ pitches.
Heathcote’s Country Walk, Birdsong at the GV Gallery in Chiltern St is another expression of birdsong, this time by an artist who has linked it with a passion for ‘a deeper understanding of my world of landscape’. 

Birdsong is a tricky subject to paint. For many it's just a memory anyway. It's in short supply in central London, where I live, though birds do their best in the many magnificent parks, despite competition from traffic in land and sky. The water birds on the lakes and ponds are the loundest, squawking and squealing as they go about their daily business. It’s only on hot days that they fall silent and other birds get a look in.They retract their legs, settle their plump chests on the ground and angle themselves to face the sun – like sun-worshippers on  beds on Rhodes’ beaches.

Let’s begin with the artist’s own lyrical description of his early years:
 ‘I had grown up with landscape all about me. I was at home with it, with its sights...scents and sounds. I was at ease with it. Now I am on a creative path to re-explore it. I am on the beach. A flying bomb clatters over me, and as it rackets across the estuary towards London, the Spitfire trying to catch it is giving up and banking away. I am on the sea now, rowing with a friend from Whitstable to Sheppey, straining to the limit. The tide is turning strongly against us. Now I have netted a great crested newt in the pond on the hill. Taken home it will escape. I am fishing on the marshes, watching a heron landing. I see my father hurrying to the pigeon loft to take the ring off a bird that has streaked in at the end of a race...’

But when I do pay attention to birdsong I'm at the bottom of an ocean of air which is filled with darting creatures above my head making random (to me, not to them) musical notes. How can you possibly paint that?  Heathcote uses strong vibrant colours and lucid patterns which run or meander downwards against a breath-taking blue. Some of the strokes are strong, some fragile. Mingling, clashing, tumbling, they remind us that birdsong is a beautiful gift outside our control, reaching us unbidden, when and where it likes. His landscape drawings breathe an air of contemplative calm,
woman in a long dress, 43x19x20, edition of 10

David Heathcote has produced a great range of work: media, form, style, ambition and reach. He taught art in Rhodesia and Nigeria, then turned to sculpture – “almost by chance”, he says – when he returned to his home country. This bronze, Woman in a Long Dress  is still and calm,  her long arms strong, capacious, confident.  Elegant and lithe, she has substantial presence, firmly grounded and with a profound inwardness.  


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