Review: A Bird on the Wire

A Bird on the Wire 

At first these images, for all of their post-Picasso minimalist edge, seem strangely archaic. Of course the painting of the feathered has a massive history in all cultures, but Kibel’s seem to hint at the 18th Century tradition of gentlemen amateur collectors who would array their specimens in display cases alongside other cultural finds. Indeed this was amongst the premises that curator Robyn McKenzie utilised in her 2007 exhibition A Bird in the Hand, at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, which contrasted the work of two other contemporary Australian artists who had turned to the avian, Tony Clark and John Wolseley. Kibel’s work would have sat well in this context; while Clark’s birds were painterly, impressionistic affairs, Wolseley’s bordered on scientific drawing. Kibel’s sit somewhere between; to be sure we can recognise his sources – the finch, the dove, the magpie – but with his stripped-back palette and almost street-art stencil approach, Kibel’s are far from realist renderings per se.
Indeed, rather than meticulous, rigorously rendered portraits of individual species, Kibel’s are more like the ‘essence’ of the bird itself, which is in keeping with the strange, ongoing symbology of the feathered. Throughout history birds have had varying roles as talismans. Whilst the crow in some Eastern European cultures denotes bad luck, the opposite is believed about the avian residents of the Tower of London. Whilst the vulture is considered with disdain in most parts of the world, in the Tibetan Sky Burial it is the vulture that carries the spirt heavenward. The dove is considered a universal symbol of peace, whilst in Alfred Hitchcock’s classic moment of terror The Birds, the feathered are universally beady-eyed monsters of prey.
The symbology of birds is as varied and vast as the various species themselves. The Eagle depicts pride and justice. It is the symbol of John the Evangelist, depicting spiritual cognition, faith, healing and ascension while for Native Americans it is the symbol of the Great Spirit. The poor old Ostrich is ignorance, the Owl is wisdom, the Nightingale symbolises yearning and pain and in Christianity symbolises the longing for heaven. The Swan is transformation, the Peacock is  pride and vanity and then of course there is the all-seeing Raven.
Kibel’s birds aren’t as specific as that. But one can’t help but superimpose one’s own readings onto his avian subjects; rest, serenity, longing, melancholy or freedom are amongst the messages his birds 

By Ashley Crawford

Ashley Crawford

Ashley Crawford is a freelance cultural critic based in Melbourne.