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Object: Colonial garden bird

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Title Colonial garden bird
Production Binney, Don (artist), 1965, Auckland
Medium summary oil on hardboard
Materials oil paint, hardboard
Classification paintings
Dimensions Support: 1825mm (Height) x 760mm (Width)
Frame: 1869mm (Height) x 802mm (Width) x 42mm (Depth)
Credit line Purchased 1971
Registration number 1971-0031-1

This painting of a tui flying above a Mount Eden villa in Auckland by Don Binney was painted in 1965. Binney's handling of the oil paint, especially on the feathers of the tui, is assured. He develops contrasts between paint laid down in thin layers and areas of thickly applied paint that suggest foliage or the glossy plumage of the bird's wings and back. The dramatic vertical of the painting cuts away the tree, garden, and gate, and emphasises the dynamic downward swoop of the bird.

Taking flight
In Colonial garden bird, the close visual relationship and lack of distinction between the birds and landscape in paintings such as Fatbird (1964), also in the Te Papa collection, gives way to a more pronounced interest in space and flight. Colonial garden bird was painted near the end of the period when Binney used oil paint on hardboard. Soon after, he began using acrylic paint and canvas, which led to an explosion of space in paintings like Pacific Frigate Bird I (1968), also owned by Te Papa.

The psychic life of the landscape
Binney is often thought of as a painter of birds and empty landscapes, but as Colonial garden bird illustrates, there are regular intrusions of people and signs of presence - a villa, a church, even a boy with bucket and spade - into his paintings. As he said in an interview in 2003: 'I've always been interested in a space that stands as not wholly unoccupied but metaphoric of human condition, sometimes anxiety, often desire.' While the gate is half-open, the windows of the house in Colonial garden bird are opaque, repelling our attempts to view the life within. Nothing stirs behind the fence. The tui descends on the villa like an omen, the meaning of which is ambiguous and, like the lives of the villa's residents, ultimately unavailable to the viewer.

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