American Birds (Endangered, Extinct, after Audubon), 2018-19 marks the first exhibition of a new series of paintings by Ann Craven (born Boston, lives and works in New York City).
American Birds (Endangered, Extinct, after Audubon), 2018-19 includes paintings of seven distinct birds, rendered in oil on linen, across three scales, lifting from John James Audubon’s compositions whilst with freedom echoing her own language, inserting backdrops or “wallpaper”. These include signature flowers and fruits, sunset fades, and painterly collages of homage, including to Picabia and O’Keefe. In this homage to Audubon, Craven’s selected birds are chosen for their endangered, near extinct or extinct category.
Craven’s selection to begin this new series – her series most often recur, which she calls “continuums” – are from within those birds painted by Audubon in Birds of America, first published 1827, that today are threatened or have been extinguished. The culmination of looking closely at Audubon’s imagery as source material, from her huge accumulated archive of bird books, nature magazines, cinema, YouTube and web screenshots, is significant to Craven’s wider practice. She chooses entities from the natural world that have power in reality, and also as images, symbolically, emotionally, psychologically. Birds, and Craven’s other subjects from nature, foremost the moon, also deer, panda, cats, derive and continue to elicit iconic status as images, across culture “high” and “low”, historically and today.
Humankind’s physical and psychologically conflicted relationship with nature, at once destructive, oppressive, however also commemorative and celebratory, has been a consistent thematic concern for Craven, foundational to her own philosophy being the belief in nature’s ascendancy and ultimate triumph over humans.
In American Birds (Endangered, Extinct, after Audubon), 2018-19, the emphasis on protection and preservation merges conceptually with Craven’s painting process. The blending of emotional and systematic return to a repertoire of subjects from nature, revisited and re-presented, symbolizes an act of life-force, acknowledgement of cycles of life, examination of memory, and the pre-eminence of not only nature, but also time, painting its passing as record. Craven calls this “The continuous just past.”