Paul Coghlin is a photographer who is praised for his incredibly detailed photographs. This is evident in his image African Spotted Owl Looking Out (2019). In this image Coghlin has captured one of the most beautiful yet illusive birds. The black backdrop intensifies the detail of the face and reminds us of the nocturnal nature of these mysterious animals. This shot allows the viewer to almost make eye contact with the owl, offering us a unique and intriguing interaction.
KEELERTORNERO is an artistic duo made up of Chin Keeler and Emma Tornero. These artists engage with the subject of birds in the drawing Bird Tree (2013). On first look this image could be a scientific record of different birds, as the style appears detailed and traditional. However, on closer look you can start to spot unusual anatomical elements, resulting in a highly surreal image.
Birds have been depicted in prehistoric art found in caves in Africa, South America, the Caribbean and Europe, despite the rarity of the creature. Paintings tended to depict larger animals. One of the earliest European examples was found in the Lascaux Caves in south-west France. The painting was named Bird-headed Man and Bird on a Stick and is dated to around 17,000 years ago.
In Ancient Egypt, birds were abundant in the fertile marshlands of the river Nile and the Egyptians had a strong affinity with them, often painting them in their tombs.
The Romans were also fond of birds and kept them as household pets or painted them to adorn their homes. They had a special relationship with birds through the practice of Augury, whereby an individual would observe the flight of birds to interpret omens.
In Christianity, birds hold symbolic meaning as they are thought to signify the presence of God. The dove signifies the presence of the Holy Spirit, the eagle signifies the caring mother, and the sparrow is intended to show that God cares for even the most insignificant things. These birds are often used as decoration for bibles or song books.
Birds became popular still life subjects or were depicted as trophies, symbolising a good hunt. When explorers began travelling further, birds paintings were also used to record the exotic species they discovered. Since then birds have been depicted by artists such as Pablo Picasso, as a subject of experimentation and abstraction.