There is a ubiquitousness in New Zealand to feathers. Birds have long been the country’s predominant land vertebrate, and our islands are blessed by a wealth of different species, many of them unique to our shores. Yet this very ubiquitousness means we quite often ignore the precise miracle of natural engineering that is the feather. We might see its colour, maybe even wonder at its lightness, but few of us look more closely.
Neil Dawson’s works challenge us to take that look. Not aggressively, but with playfulness and delight. The artist has long been fascinated by feathers, and his works, computer cut from aluminium, acrylic, and polycarbonate, allow us a chance to be awe-inspired by nature via his guidance. We are invited to examine the uniqueness of every blade: the curve of the shaft, the sheen of the vanes, and the tangled curls of the downy barbs close to the shaft’s foot. Not only is each feather unique, but the general shapes vary from bird to bird, and Dawson’s art becomes a warm gentle lesson in the anatomy of flight.
The playfulness in these works is in the overwhelming feeling of a defiance of gravity. These are works which have substance and weight, and yet also are - to use the cliche - as light as a feather. The cognitive dissonance this paradox creates is enhanced by the work’s placement, floating against walls, and their overwhelming size. Works such as Down - Dawn are simple fluffy pieces of down, yet dominate with their unnaturally large presence. As always, the artist’s spectacular use of colour, exemplified by the coruscating blues and reds of Parrot Feather, is a delight. The works suggest movement through the artist’s graceful use of light and shade and the three-dimensional form, and provide a perfect homage to the natural wonder that is the feather.