The Deception of the Thrush
A critique of three painted bird sculptures by Martyn Bednarczuk and Janice Stubbs.
By Dr Phil Mouldycliff
I was recently invited to the home of sculptor Martyn Bednarczuk and his partner, painter Janice Stubbs to view some of their work. Tucked away in a quiet back road in a Lancashire village just outside Blackburn their stone built cottage nestles into the environment. In the light filled top floor living space they have arrayed examples of both their individual and joint ventures. Central in the room and immediately commanding attention on the occasion of my visit were a number of life sized wooden sculptures, three of which in particular held my interest. These were all lifelike depictions of wild birds native to the UK. I must confess that as a keen birdwatcher I was drawn to the subject immediately and this initial attraction, rather than dissipating during my conversation with the two artists, grew steadily and my eyes and concentration constantly returned to and rested on these subjects.
The Sculptures show a Woodcock (Scolopax rusticola) at rest, nestling in the undergrowth; a pensive Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) on the lookout for prey; and a panicked Collared Dove (Streptopelia decaoto) in the act of being attacked. At first I found it difficult to define what exactly it was about these three pieces that could warrant so much of my attention. Yes of course, the forms were well seen and the Lime wood expertly carved; the patina and colouration matched expectations for the species represented…yest it seemed to me there was something more to these works of art, an essence that couldn’t be adequately defined by the process alone. Then it came to me that what Martyn in his skill as a master carver and Janice as a painter had imbued in these three examples of their joint craft, was a distillation of time, a representation not just of mass, but of implicit movement as perhaps most famously described by T.S. Eliot in the first of his Four Quartets.
Time past and time future.
What might have been and what has been.
Point to one end, which is always present.
This is what the poet calls “the deception of the Thrush” and in my mind at least, goes some way to describe what is happening when you view these two talented artists, joint natural history creations. The expressionistic movement and vibrant line that Martyn lovingly and sensitively crafts from the wood reminds reminds one of the fearless approach to carving as exemplified by the great Grinling Gibbons; while Janice’s application of colour eschews the clinical saturation associated with scientific reference models in favour of a more washed out palette. Techniques deliberately employed to take you beyond the hard unremitting gaze of the examiner into the flickering half-seen, half-remembered world of the unprepared spectator. In reality, how often do we catch more than a fleeting glimpses of these furtive, often vast moving feathered denizens of the skies? In these three carefully crafted studies the imagination does not have to be stretched very far to see the Woodcock’s feathers trembling as it lies low; catch the taut sinewy arch of the Kestrel’s back as it seeks a clearer view; or feel the rush of air press down on the unfortunate Dove’s exposed back as it tenses in dread at the oncoming attack.
Of course there is much more to the oeuvre of both these gifted individuals than can be satisfactorily summed up in this particular collaboration, but for me on first viewing there is an alchemy to be found in these three pieces that hints at an exciting and potentially rewarding future for both of them.
*Phil Mouldycliff is an artist, writer and academic who creates large scale , multi-disciplinary projects for live performance, recording, exhibition, installation and radio. He has collaborated with artists such as Tom Phillips, Keith Rowe, Bruce McLean and Micheal Nyman and has shown work at the Tate gallery in Liverpool, The Cornerhouse in Manchester, The I.C.A. in London and the Planetarium in Perth, Western Australia.