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  • Writer's pictureCheryl Rodgers

Birds of Paradise... by Artist Dr Cheryl Rodgers

Less well known as Strelitzia - but of course you garden bods knew that.

According to the University of Oxford’s Natural History Museum, ‘The first bird of paradise to arrive in Europe was a prepared skin that came to Spain in 1522. Many of these were prepared by native hunters without wings or feet to better show off their spectacular plumage and the apparent lack of wings and legs created the myth that these birds originated from paradise and floated high in the skies, only to fall down to earth after their death.’

So that’s why the birds are called that. And they are very pretty things. The male is of course, the prettiest and its specialised feathers are shed and regrown every single year, which apparently ‘puts quite a strain on male birds of paradise.’ Shame. The plant is of course very pretty too. Named after the bird in reference to the open flower looking like the head and beak of a colourful exotic bird. Who knew.

It was the colour I was after. The flashes of blue against orange/pink/yellow accents and usually a background of tropical greens. Quite yummy for us colour addicts. I abstracted out my flowers with white to better accent the blue. Selective art, you see. Which was useful because it draws the eye to shape when there is less colour to distract it. And did you garden bods recognise the flowers in the painting by the colour or the shape? Do you know? Did you realise? Colour and shape are good friends - and in the world of abstract art they become even better friends. It is but a short leap from the colour/shape liaison to feeling, to emotion. And therein lies the power of abstract art. It evokes emotion.

I have heard tell of people seeing a Mark Rothko painting and just sitting in front of it in tears. I have heard tell of people becoming utterly absorbed, lost within his ‘vast, electrifying canvases.’ I have been there, done that. (But note it doesn’t work when you look at it in a book or on the net - you have to see the real thing - so if you get the chance - do!) His work is, in fact, carefully designed to elicit such a response. Rothko was specific about how his paintings should be curated and shown, with the viewer close to the canvas such that their peripheral vision was filled with the painting, creating a sense of awe and transcendence - and thus eliciting a personal emotional response. Rothko famously said that, ‘A painting is not about an experience...It is an experience.”

Now my ‘Birds of Paradise’ is of course not particularly abstract so no problems if you weren’t in tears over it. But maybe you got the colour/shape thing. Maybe you just like it. Maybe go buy a plant. That’s emotional response enough. Enjoy your reaction to colour, to shape. Let the painting engross you, if just for a short while. Practise.

Then go find a Rothko. Enjoy.

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