Artists

Colin Richards

Artists

Colin Richards

Notes for ‘Take into the Air…’*, 2012

In this work I used the Japanese foldout book Moleskine produces. The medium is pen and ink, the physical Moleskine book (covers, pages), and paper from two other books, Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe (1719) and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island (1883).
I worked within the folding / unfolding logic of the Moleskine book. Where there are page transitions – from one ordinary facing page to the next – and where I have drawn an image, the tonal shift on either side of the fold is actually drawn. This tonal shift is relatively independent of how the book is displayed and lit.
The pen and ink drawings are of a parrot in silhouette lying on its back. This is drawn from an actual parrot (an African Grey) I possess and which appears in a number of recent works I have done. Each silhouette is hand drawn crosshatching.
Horizontal ‘hatchings’ in paper relief make up the other pages, bar one, where the actual pages of the book are cut into. These horizontal ‘hatches’ are physically cut from other versions of the text I selected as well as a pair of pages cannibalized from another the Moleskine book of a similar kind. All these reliefs take their dimensions of the smaller Moleskine book in the same range.
The only image with words takes its shape and scale from the Moleskine logo (an open book) which appears on all Moleskine inserts.
In this instance words are cut from various references to parrots in Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe.
Crusoe taught his parrot to speak and its words (his originally) brought him some comfort in his isolation. Yet other references in the book speak of killing parrots. I reorganized these cut and pasted words to touch on, amongst other things, the capriciousness of creaturely life – human and animal – lived in relative isolation.
The image of a dead parrot appears in South African-born author J M Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians (1982); ” I feel under the surface, searching for bones. My hand comes up with the corner of a jute sack, black, rotten, witch crumbles away between my fingers. I dip back into the ooze. A fork, bent and tarnished. A dead bird, a parrot: I hold it by the tail, its bedraggled feathers hang down, its soggy wings droop, its eye sockets are empty. When I realise it, it falls through the surface without a splash. ‘Poisoned water’, I think. ‘I must be careful not to drink here. I must not touch my right hand to my mouth'”.
A more full-blooded parrotry appears in Coetzee’s reading of ‘He and His Man’ on the occasion of his Nobel Prize for Literature awarded in 2003.
‘And indeed the bird would sit on its perch in his room in the inn, with a little chain on its leg in case it should try to fly away, and say the words Poor Poll! Poor Poll! over and over till he was forced to hood it; but could not be taught to say any other word, Poor Robin! for instance, being perhaps too old for that.
Poor Poll, gazing out through the narrow window over the mast-tops and, beyond the mast-tops, over the grey Atlantic swell: What island is this, asks Poor Poll, that I am cast up on, so cold, so dreary? Where were you, my Saviour, in my hour of great need?’
… but the parrot that came back with him passed away. Poor Robin! the parrot would squawk from its perch on his shoulder, Poor Robin Crusoe! Who shall save poor Robin? His wife could not abide the lamenting of the parrot, Poor Robin day in, day out. I shall wring its neck, said she, but she had not the courage to do so.’
The title of my work is a line from Samuel Beckett’s ‘Dante and the Lobster’ published in More Pricks that Kicks(1934). In this line Beckett actually parrots John Keats’ ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ (1819):

Darkling I listen; and, for many a time
I have been half in love with easeful Death,
Call’d him soft names in many a musèd rhyme,
To take into the air my quiet breath;
Now more than ever seems it rich to die,
To cease upon the midnight with no pain,
While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad
In such an ecstasy!

* There is also a parrot – an African Grey – in Beckett’s only film, titled Film (1964)

Colin Richards

(Cape Town, 1954, South Africa) Lives and works in Cape Town, South Africa

He is currently Professor in the Michaelis School of Fine Art, University of Cape Town where he teaches art history and theory. Colin is an exhibiting artist and has published widely on contemporary South African art. His current research focuses on the (post)humanist presence of the animal in contemporary South African Art.

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