“Lost in a wilderness of listening leaves”

An artists’ book nearly there

Gracia Haby & Louise Jennison
Prattle, scoop, trembling: a flutter of Australian birds
Artists' book, unique state, featuring 15 individual collages on cabinet card with pencil additions, 15 pencil drawings on Fabriano Artistico 640gsm traditional white hot-press paper with metallic paint trim; housed in a Solander box with inlaid collage

From Adelie penguin (Pygoscelis adeliae) to Zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata) — well, not quite. Why, not even alphabetised. But true, if bended to suit fancy — a catalogue of Australian birds in environments augmented and closer to natural. Silver-voiced birdcalls, filtered through collages on cabinet cards. Silvered feathers, fluttered through drawings made with a 2B pencil. Whether knee-deep in carpet weave or native grass clump, this naturalist’s companion is misleading, but its dedication, sincere.

“Lost in a wilderness of listening leaves,”[i] looking at the canopy overhead, eyes seeking the source of flittering and chirrups, or the tiny cup of a nest, who hasn’t thought: I wish I had wings.


A feathered tease of the words to accompany both the drawing and collage of the magpie and the riflebird.

Australian magpie (Cracticus tibicen)
Crimson rosella (Platycercus elegans)
Eclectus parrot (Eclectus roratus)
Brown honeyeater (Lichmera indistincta)
As what was faded comes to focus, a charm of mirror-black magpies, play their flutes as sunrise makes their collection of spoons and other found artefacts shimmer. With their chestnut brown eyes fixed on trinkets in the distance — a jewel from your throat, perhaps, or from the tail feathers of the Crimson rosella (Platycercus elegans), less likely — look lively. Be steady.

Magnificent riflebird (Ptiloris magnificus)
Greater painted-snipe (Rostratula benghalensis)
Greater painted-snipe (Haematopus longirostris)
Yellow-rumped thornbill (Acanthiza chrysorrhoa)
With unaffected ease, the Magnificent riflebird (Ptiloris magnificus) takes to the canvas and plies his task. Darting back and forth, a dancing perch of an altogether different kind, it reflects his burnished blue-green crown all the same. Interlace romance with reality; make of me, your nature sprite. In the beginning, we are Miss Flite’s birds, “Hope, Joy, Youth, Peace, Rest, Life” before our edges are smudged to “Dust, Ashes, Waste, Want, Ruin, Despair, Madness, Death, Cunning, Folly, Words, Wigs, Rags, Sheepskin, Plunder, Precedent, Jargon, Gammon, and Spinach. That’s the whole collection,” in and out of the cage. Look! It has started to rain in our indoor garden. Mind the painting!


Prattle, scoop, trembling: a flutter of Australian birds will be exhibited as part of Birds: Flight paths in Australian Art at Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery later in the year.

Birds: Flight paths in Australian art
2nd December, 2016 – 12th February, 2017
Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery
Civic Reserve, 350 Dunns Road (corner of Mornington-Tyabb Road and Dunns Road), Mornington, Victoria

Brook Andrew; Arthur Boyd; Richard Browne; Penny Byrne; Kate Daw & Stewart Russell; Adrienne Doig; Marian Drew; Juan Ford; Gracia Haby & Louise Jennison; Fiona Hall; Treahna Hamm; Hans Heysen; Patrina Hicks; Judy Holding; Clara Ngala Inkamala; Judith Pungarta Inkamala; James Stu; Leila Jeffreys; Martin King; John William Lewin; Sydney Long; Joseph McGlennon; James Morrison; Munduwalawala; David Noonan; Jill Orr; Trent Parke; Kenny Pittock; Ben Quilty; Kate Rohde; Heather Shimmen; James Smeaton; Valerie Sparks; Henry Steiner; Tjunkaya Tapaya; Claudia Terstappen; Rover Thomas; Christian Thompson; Albert Tucker; Louise Weaver; Guan Wei; Fred Williams; John Wolesley; Salvatore Zofrea

Over 70 works by 50 Australian artists are brought together for this exhibition on the bird, curated by Danny Lacy. Encompassing works from painting to sculpture, decorative arts, photography, printmaking and installation, this exhibition, two years in the making, explores the science, symbolism, beauty and curiosity of birds.


[i] A line plucked from John Clare’s poem, ‘The Nightingale’s Nest,’ to place both bird and book in nature, cited by Stephanie Kuduk Weiner, ‘On the Publication of John Clare’s The Rural Muse, 1835,’ BRANCH: Britain, Representation and Nineteenth-Century History, ed. Dino Franco Felluga, extension of Romanticism and Victorianism on the Net, accessed October 2016.

[ii] Charles Dickens, Bleak House (London: Penguin Classics, 2003),  p. 235.


Image credit: Gracia Haby and Louise Jennison, Prattle, scoop, trembling: a flutter of Australian birds, 2016, artists’ book