Ralph Steadman, Walton Ford, and other artists conjure extinct bird species, real and imagined
When John James Audubon attempted to chronicle the full array of ornithological life in the United States between 1827 and 1838, he logged in 497 species in his famous series, Birds of America. Since then, various creatures he depicted have disappeared: American Species including the Carolina Parakeet, the Passenger Pigeon, the Labrador Duck, the Great Auk, and the Pinnated Grouse, along with their international relatives like the Spectacled Cormorant from Bering Island, the Hawaiian O’o, and, notoriously, the Dodo.So it was useful to discover, at the recent New York Art Book Fair, an artist’s book by Billy O’Callaghan offering a “redacted” version of Audubon’s classic. Here for example is his rendering of the Esquimaux (Eskimo) Curlew.
The Labrador Duck.
And the Greater Prairie Chicken.
O’Callaghan is one of a number of artists giving form to the ghosts in our post-Audubon skies.There’s Walton Ford, whose ecologically-minded images of creatures real and imaginary owe a debt to earlier naturalist illustrations (and whose cover for the new Rolling Stones album comes from his King Kong series). In Falling Bough, he visualized how Passenger Pigeons darkened the sky in the early Americas.
He gives a voiced to the doomed Carolina Parakeet.
The population of post-Audubon birds expanded when the organizers Ghosts of Gone Birds, a fundraising project for BirdLife International, raised a “creative army” to summon the ghosts of extinct birds in a variety of media.Harriet Mead imagined a King Island Emu, last seen in Australia in the early 1800s.
Ralph Steadman took the project further than anticipated, going on to produce an entire book of Extinct Boids.The Dodo, the flightless bird extinct by the 17th century.
The St. Helena Giant Hoopoe, from the island of Saint Helena in the South Atlantic.
The Red Rail, another flightless bird from the home of the Dodo, the island of Mauritius.
Not a dead bird, but a good pun: The Nasty Tern.
Brian R. Williams goes more anthropomorphic with the late lamented Great Auk, a penguin-like bird found in the North Atlantic.
Even as mankind spurs the demise of feathered creatures, its impulse to identify and connect with them has generated some curious new hybrid species. Some of the birds that have appeared in our post-Audubon world are helpfully documented by O’Callaghan in a supplement to his book.There’s Big Bird (who seemed himself endangered during the election).
Ornithologically inspired corporate identities.
Finally, there are Peeps.