The Nakahi – new work by Grant Whibley features a selection of his trademark bird paintings. These are still the museum specimens of earlier work, but there is a difference with these paintings.
Indigenous New Zealand natives, the bird subjects of these new paintings, are threatened by extinction if not already extinct. But Whibley has animated these birds and their environment by heightening the contrasts of artificial light and dramatising the viewpoint. He uses the museum casement as a prop that provides an ambiguous contrast to each bird subject. This all adds up to a highly suggestive display of paintings that have a collective impact reminiscent of scenes from a Hitchcock movie.
The ‘horror’ of these is the potent part; Whibley is showing us the tragedy of imminent extinction, but also evident is a fascinating subtext about museum culture and the phenomenon of the taxidermy bird kept ‘alive’ for ever.
The museum specimen is the subject of voyeurism through the years. But it is interesting that in recent times the notion of human interaction within the museum context has shifted. The subject of these visible and entombed birds becomes more horrific as our museum experience shifts. The tension and competition between the artificial and the real, and the requirement for animation and interaction of and with the past, becomes more potent.
Whibley examines all this, and animates these stuffed birds with an ambiguous life that is enhanced by his clever use of light and view point.
Whibley’s subjects here are Mokai (slave), Hauraro (surrender) and the Nakahi (serpent). Not portents of hope. The fate of these birds seems sealed. However there is a gentleness to the treatment of colour and tone, and the brushstrokes and texture differentiation is more visible in these paintings than before.