Ted Barraclough
  home     galleries    shop    curriculum vitae    news & text    contacts    mailing list    copyright   

One with Birds

Glenn Barkley

I remember when I was a kid finding a sick bird lying on the roadside across from where I used to go to school. A rosella I think now. I tried to pick it up but a bird can be a handful, even a stunned one, not wanting to be touched especially by an anxious little kid. A bird’s natural reaction is fight or flight. I remember it twisting in my hands to bite me. Tougher measures were needed so I got some wicket keeper gloves from the sports shed and deposited the bird into the bush.

Heart beating hard, twisting in my hands - its little eyes and whole body driven anxious by this unnatural partnership and holding, clutching or lifting a bird is an unnatural thing.

Wild birds are loved – anthropomorphized, part of our own domestic rituals –we want them to be part of our lives. We feed and look after them. If they bang into our windows and lie stunned we might take them to the local vet or like me hopefully return them to the bush.  We sense their symbolic power, their wildness and natural intelligence the way they have inserted themselves into our non- spiritual, non-mythological lives. 

Birds figure highly in our collective imaginations. They’re linked to myth and legend, to spiritual realms and worlds beyond us often symbolically as a way to better understand the natural world. Birds like ravens, eaters of carrion, are associated with death. Owls are associated with wisdom and so on. Birds can symbolise natural phenomena or harbingers of change and transformation in both a real and metaphorical sense. Few animals are so much a part of our lives, sometime as companions, yet are distinctly apart from it. 

There's something so basic about carving wood. You pick a piece of wood off the shelf or out of the bush and you can make something out of it. [1]

It is within these contexts, the mythological, the personal and the anthromophic - that the carvings of Ted Barraclough perch. I have a small flock of his birds overlooking me on a high shelf in my lounge room. All 1:1 scale perched quizzically looking down surveying the scene. Lifelike in the way they cock their heads as if to see me properly or, at least, to guard themselves against the cat that I must say was never fooled.

What impresses me most is the sheer tenderness of them. Is this something to do with my own feelings, the sense of something alive, always moving now stilled by the carvers hands? Glossy wings now glossily painted the living, breathing – tiny light bones, beating hearts – now stilled, captured. All breaths gone and now a new kind of life breathed into the wood itself.

If the story of birds and their relationship with man, their sublimation into mythology and fable are ancient so to is the impulse to take a piece of lumpen wood and with it try and carve the world. Although wood, as a material for sculpture, is in the long term fairly fugitive you could surmise that carving as an art form runs alongside storytelling. And the tradition of carving wooden birds, in the way Barraclough has, mounted and placed on sticks or branches in a contrivance of reality, also has its own traditions linked to museum and naturalist displays.

Barraclough's work grows out of his own experiences as a kid growing up in central Queensland. He always remembers carving toys for himself and his brothers, great toys his siblings still remember, now lost to time. As such he is part of the great Australian tradition of making do. Making your own toys from bits of wood, whatever is lying about and making your own fun with what’s at hand.

Ted told me if he had of lived a different life he may have gone to art school  and that he came to carving, and then carving birds, late. But art can be like that, kicking around in your mind - something to put on hold while life takes over, although at the time unaware that life is part of the creative process.

And as such I think that Barraclough as an artist who sits outside of the academy may think that their are some manual skills relating to technical aspects of carving and painting that he may lack. But I feel that although there may be those artists whose feather counts might be more correct, and whose realism is more exact, this has little to do with what ‘art’ might be.  And the lack of emphasis on craft runs counter to a hyper over-skilling and this is what makes Barraclough’s birds so good. The care with which they are made, the love and the sometimes failed ambition, brings out the wonky personalities of each bird which seems paramount over trying to somehow trick the eye.

But there is a transformation within the artist to – to make each flock better than the next. Like any artist he is constantly moving forward. Wanting to create the essence of the bird through realism and verisimilitude. As the artist himself has said he wants to use Plato’s idea of relativism as a guide not making merely a 3 dimensional generic description of a bird, no mere stand-in, but to make the sculpture in essence that very bird and to represent all of them.

I like to think of Barraclough’s birds as monuments. To those birds who ran into windows, those shots at by small boys with air rifles, those run down by cars, taken by cats, electrocuted, or whose small nest have been pilfered by amateur naturalists. Small deaths all but now made real, tangible through the hands of an artist. 

Ted Barraclough is a modern day Gepetto, bringing the timber to life as if only he can hear a sound within it and find its natural form. And through working within an ancient tradition and with a motif as old as culture and maybe life itself can we expect anything less than wooden birds dreaming of flight?

Can you see the bird? Can you fell its heartbeat? Is it not alive?