In the exhibition Hen’s Teeth Joanna Braithwaite presents portraits of birds and links them to human attributes and preoccupations in her characteristic anthropomorphic manner.
Her works, as always, are visual riddles. She uses paradox, contradiction, irony and the narrative power of parable to engage the viewer directly. Her paintings use the power of gaze to arrest, ask and question. A conversation begins, which is a mix of dream, political, social, religious and environmental discourse. Braithwaite invents and amends, alters and applies an essential strangeness to what’s going on. What at first might seem simple or deliberately underdone, is revealed as imbued with content beyond appearance. Complexity arises.
In Touch Wood a necklace hangs, rosary-like, in front of a kereru’s breast and there sits a crucifix. Is this a story of love, hope or death? All these things? In Beauty Trap a peacock is chained by its beauty. In Bad Rap a kea dolefully looks back, its neck adorned with rap jewellery and its reputation as a thief. From a penguin hangs a compass (Going South), an albatross is adorned with a shark’s tooth, a studded collar completes the punk-like persona of a crowned hen.
Braithwaite explores tensions between fact and fiction, between traditional portraiture and humour, between the unique and endangered and ubiquitous. Cultural dynamics, social mores and values enter each painting. A gap between a collective subconscious and daily behaviour is revealed. A paradise duck sports a bullet necklace, a pukeko a chain watch, a morepork has the heavy metal references of a skull, a dagger, a padlock and a small animal hanging down.