Christine Cariati: About The Work

About The Work

The very idea of a bird is a symbol and a suggestion to the poet. A bird seems to be at the top of the scale, so vehement and intense his life.... The beautiful vagabonds, endowed with every grace, masters of all climes, and knowing no bounds—how many human aspirations are realised in their free, holiday-lives—and how many suggestions to the poet in their flight and song!
-John Burroughs (1837-1921)

We behold the face of nature bright with gladness. We do not see, or we forget, that the birds singing around us live on insects or seeds, constantly destroying life.
Charles Darwin (1809 - 1882)

The contradictions in these two quotes represent the complexity of our ideas about the avian world. Birds are represented in art and poetry as messengers, guides, bearers of both glad and tragic tidings. When I first began to paint birds, not as representational depictions, but as creatures of the imagination, I presented them in a stylized, theatrical format because I wanted to portray glimpses of the unseen dramas in the natural world. Those intimate paintings explored the ways we re-imagine nature—finding beauty and pattern in chaos and wildness.

In my ongoing series, Imaginary Operas, with their narratives and implied music, I have combined my love of opera with the drama of nature and our place in the natural world. Birds, wildly out of scale, interact with humans. In the earlier Imaginary Opera paintings, birds presided over brief moments of change and transformation in the human world, those fleeting seconds when something important has been passed along. Increasingly, the narratives are growing more layered and complex, humans and birds meeting in an in-between world, enacting rituals and dramas where they are equal players in the drama.

The intense use of patterns, line work and intricate detail reflect my background both as a textile designer and as a bibliographer of rare books. The dramas are often glimpsed through a thicket of tangled vines and leaves. The complex layers of the images hint at the darker dramas behind nature's comforting, beautiful surface.

I work exclusively in gouache on paper. Gouache is an opaque water color paint that has a reflective quality. This medium allows me to create a multi-layered, dense and matte finish. The small format of my paintings creates an intimacy with the viewer, they can be held and read like a book.