hand-painted digital collage
113 x 80 cm (framed dimensions)
edition of 8 + 2AP
George Raper: “Bird and Flower of Port Jackson”, 1789, 48.2 x 32.3 cm, the drawing is inscribed in black ink at bottom “BIRD, & FLOWER of PORT-JACKSON – former 1/4 Less Natural Size – GEO: RapeR.# 1789 ~”. The drawing is signed “GEO: RapeR” and dated 1789. The bird was identified by noted orthologous Keith Hindwood (1964) as the Channel-billed Cuckoo, Scythrops novaehollandiae.
Hindwood, K.A. ‘George Raper: an Artist of the First Fleet’, Journal and Proceedings of the Royal Australian Historical Society, Vol. 50, Pt. 1, 1964 pp.32-57.
George Raper (1769 – 1797) was a naval officer and illustrator rising as he did through the ranks, from a captain’s servant to the midshipman that he was, when he sailed with the First Fleet in 1788. On his travels from 1787 to 1792, George Raper undertook watercolours of birds, flowers and landscapes. Many of these drawings show species, which are extinct today. While stranded aboard the HMS Sirius in Sydney Harbour awaiting repairs, midshipman George Raper worked up a volume of watercolours ‘capturing’ the avian wonders of the new world. Among his captives is the Bird and Flower of Port Jackson, painted in 1789.
Polite, beautiful, charming… and headless. You approach the reconfigured colonial bird studies of Joan Ross with a first glance of charm. Then you realise the birds have one and all been decapitated. This contemporary image is as unsettling, as the very bird the artist has chosen. Of the dozen or so species of cuckoos that occur in Australia, the Channel-billed Cuckoo is the largest. Being a cuckoo, it lays its eggs in the nest of another bird.
Joan Ross’s A Native, 2018 is the unsetting deceptor; as an artist; as an artwork, as a bird, and as an emblem of our colonial settlement of Australia. The term; A Native is important here, it can be a loaded colonial racial pejorative, and yet still used in benign contemporary descriptions of flora and fauna. A subtle look at the power of language and context.