Feathers have been part of Neil Dawson’s visual language for decades. They have adorned the Art Gallery of NSW skyline, one floats in the grounds of Sam Neill’s Two Paddocks winery, and yet another provides a delicate steel foil to skyscrapers in Shanghai.
These large public works possess a real sense of tension as the realities of steel and engineering requirements is woven together with the illusion of weightlessness and the delicate form. In Feathers 2020, the smaller scale of the sculptures dissipates this tension and invites a closer, more personal interaction from the viewer. In doing this, the intricacies of Dawson’s pieces can be truly appreciated.
As the viewer shifts their sightlines, Mallard Duck Feather reveals the same green-purple iridescence seen on the bird itself and the colours shift across the surfaces of the work. Groups of barbs (the individual parts that make up the feather vane) do not lie flush but are ruffled and separated out from one another. The organic, curved feather forms sit lightly upon the wall and seem about to lift off at the slightest breeze and it is hard to grasp that the curling after-feathers of the stripy Kahu Down Feather are not soft and warm.
Illusion has always been a feature of Dawson’s practice: he suggests movement where there is none and produces volume with his manipulation of flat planes. Without the immediacy of bright colours or individual markings, White Feather distills these attributes to their essence; the work relies solely on the movement captured by its form. Light filters through the smallest of gaps to produce soft, moving shadows which become intangible extensions of the sculpture beyond its physical bounds.
A feather is a marvel of natural engineering, perfected over aeons, and Neil Dawson’s Feathers pays homage to this. His poised sculptures capture the spirit of flight for the earthbound to enjoy.