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Object: Fatbird

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Title Fatbird
Production Binney, Don (artist), 1964, Auckland
Medium summary oil on hardboard
Materials oil paint, hardboard
Classification paintings
Dimensions Image: 603mm (Height) x 753mm (Width)
Frame: 653mm (Height) x 800mm (Width) x 40mm (Depth)
Credit line Purchased 2002
Registration number 2002-0022-1

This oil painting by Don Binney was painted in 1964 and exhibited in the artist's second solo exhibition, Donald Binney: Recent Paintings, at the Ikon Gallery in Auckland in October 1964. Fatbird is typical of Binney's paintings from 1963 and 1964. The paint surface is rough, not yet revealing the delicacy and variety of paint techniques that the he developed from 1965 onwards. The bird, a South Island tomtit (ngirungiru), and landscape are still visually connected, the curves and sweep of landscape echoing closely the plump forms of the perching bird. Flight and space, which would come to dominate Binney's paintings by the end of the 1960s, have not yet become central themes.

Bird watching
Fatbird demonstrates a productive synergy between ornithology (the study of birds) and painting. One of the ways Binney creates such a powerful visual image is by playing off the similarities and differences between the bird and the landscape. Both are reduced to strong graphic elements, bold lines, and areas of colour. In a 1983 interview, Binney explained how works like Fatbird link to ornithology: 'I think a characteristic of this, and a lot of work from this period, is the structural coordination of bird and land form …Physical resonance between one shape and the other. Why? Because as an ornithologist I've always been thoroughly involved in the way in which land, the environment the creature lives in, modifies the creature. The creature also of course modifies the land: it's symbiosis really, isn't it?'

A bird in the bush
While Binney never lets his birds become abstract symbols, the relationship between bird and landscape in paintings like Fatbird did take on a symbolic significance in the minds of audiences in the 1960s. In 1964 one newspaper reviewer commented that 'The search for a New Zealand identity is something that is now influencing all the arts in this country …Toss Woollaston and Colin McCahon continue to contribute to [the tradition of national identity], but after them, who else? My choice would be Don Binney, whose first one-man show showed an understanding of the peculiar rhythms that go to make the New Zealand landscape.'

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