little birds

little birds…


I am still baffled by the mystery of how man has an independent life from woman, whereas I die when separated from my lover. While all these threads of desire and tenderness stifled me, I climbed into a giant bird and swooped toward space. Up here I do not suffer. Distance is magically covered. It is a dream. It is an inhuman bird that carries me to a new destiny. I rise. [Anaïs Nin, December 1939]
[from Mirages: The Unexpurgated Diary of Anaïs Nin, 1939-1947]


[Roman Standard, Tracey Emin, Snape, Suffolk]

I started drawing birds because I liked them and because they’re pretty [...] They represent something to me which is heavenly, because they fly. It’s like ascension. That was a time in my life when I really needed to rise above the situation I was in, and birds seemed the perfect metaphor for me. [...] The Roman Standard came through that way of thinking. [...] What I’m saying through the piece is that strength isn’t always about being big. [Tracey Emin, May 2013]
[Vanity Fair: Artist Tracey Emin: Critics Are Harsher Because I’m a Woman]


[Paul Klee, Bird Garden [Vogelgarten], 1924, Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich]

This lovely, fantastic, absurdly comic garden scene is as much music as painting. We feel that on our pulses as we look at it. Its lovely incongruities provoke delight. Each of those brash, small birds, so perkily self-assured, sounds like a single brazen struck note, usually quite a high note because they are treading very delicately upon the tops of all the leaves and all the plants [...] Not one of them is flying. They have no such ambitions. They are perfectly, harmoniously at rest, picking their way back and forth, round and round, across the tops of equally fragile and delicate natural things. [Michael Glover]
[The Independent: Great Works: Bird Garden, 1924, Paul Klee]


  1. Jazz
    Posted July 12, 2015 at 7:47 am | Permalink

    TateShots: Paul Klee

    Paul Klee: Making Visible. Retrospective at Tate Modern, London

    Michael Gaumnitz : Paul Klee The Silence of the Angel (2005)

  2. Jazz
    Posted July 12, 2015 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    how to type an umlaut over an i on a mac: press ‘alt’ and u, release, type i =ï

  3. Jazz
    Posted July 12, 2015 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    it started with real birds in a real garden – a chance meeting with a robin, on the garden table, so close and so fearless i could see he was clasping a tiny fragment of lichen in his beak, maybe to build a nest somewhere nearby – the art/literary connections [if any] are serendipitous, from a little book to seeing a small bird up high in the sky, to the green shade of a summer garden…

  4. jazz
    Posted July 12, 2015 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

    it is interesting to compare Nin with Emin [there's even a phonetic similarity] – the sentiments of love, and passion, relationship confessions, the self-analysis…

    maybe Emin has read some Anaïs Nin… worthy of some thought, but this is merely my own stream of idle thoughts on a hazy sunday [and i'll drop the caps].

    i was curious to see tracey emin’s bronze bird sculpture at snape, but an overcast late afternoon [during a heatwave] didn’t cast much light on the work in a material sense – it didn’t twinkle or gleam as a bronze, but more experienced in silhouette against the marsh landscape – and it was very high up on a pole. i think it’s only sited at snape for the summer, although for it to be sited there permanently would be good. over on the far side of the snape maltings campus is sarah lucas’s ‘percival’ [barrow and marrow] – creating an intriguing dialogue between two female YBAs [dons on caps!] there are others…

    i want to interpret ‘roman standard’ as being universal in sentiment – hope, aspiration, fortitude – but as emin speaks so much about her work it becomes another autobiographical piece, even if that is not her intention – the voice of emin always comes brazenly before the work, and it seems impossible to separate them. the high-rise pole could also be ‘read’ as alone and aloof… i didn’t find the tiny bird especially feminine or graceful – but that could be one interpretation – as the bird is too remote and high up on a perch to get that.

    i have read elsewhere on the internet that the ‘bird’ was stolen when installed at a different location. maybe the little bird took flight, it was no longer tethered. this is one reason i why i like the paul klee ‘bird garden’ painting so much, compared to emin’s bird – it’s the contrast of solidity and lightness, the music versus the muteness – the antithesis of emin’s bronze bird – it speaks more about freedom – those little red and white birds are singing and dancing together in a garden paradise, and i find that more uplifting.

    i asked a feeble question on twitter if the ‘bronze bird’ was modelled on a sparrow, knowing it was probably a generic little bird, but i was thinking of a cockney east-end sparrow and because emin has drawn sparrows…

    i discovered after i asked the question that it had just been her birthday and she had a lavish celebration at her home in france [see the daily mail for the full celebrity scoop] and that made me think again… about privacy and the price of fame, among other things. knowing a little how the media works, i am guessing celebrities sell their pictures [photos] to the newspapers to get some good publicity? tracey emin is never out of the public eye, and is considered to be britain’s most successful female artist. she was recently quoted by the royal academy that the key to success is ‘working hard’.

    when i was a student on my first degree at farnham, for a term i shared a student house with someone who went on to study fine art at the rca at the same time as tracey emin. i visited london a few times to see my friend [this was in the year before i applied to the rca] and emin would have been part of the fine art drinking crowd in the rca art bar. i vaguely recall emin’s paintings in the rca degree show because they reminded me a little of amanda faulkner’s paintings at the time – floaty and dreamy.

    emin has said she did not enjoy her time at the rca, and most people will know about her subsequent breakdown from the famous ‘my bed’ – but it might be too simplistic to say her life is her art, sure it’s more complicated than that.

    i am now thinking that i shouldn’t say ‘bronze bird’ – it sounds like a norfolk turkey!

    should really double-check for typos but i’ll hit the submit button now…

  5. jazz
    Posted July 12, 2015 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

    quite difficult not to view the context of a tiny bird perched on a tall pole as a metaphor for high self-regard, and maybe its shadow, the solitude of self-doubt? even a moderately successful artist will want to have their work admired or seen further afield, to be more widely acknowledged, in the way that art graduates want to be ‘discovered’. emin is personally rewarded when her work is held in the same high regard as her artistic heroes.

    klee’s ‘bird garden’ painting is obviously more naturally grounded, playful, sociable.

    no outward intention to compare or contrast these things – it was the little robin in the garden, going about his business seemingly unaffected by my presence.

  6. Jazz
    Posted July 18, 2015 at 8:35 am | Permalink

    i hesitated to mention the RCA tracey emin thing, that kind of unashamed name-dropping is for the social climbers…

    what it illustrates is that i still recall the paintings she did, and not the person obviously, because she was just another ‘unknown’ in a large crowd…

    to get on in the art world you have to be well-connected, make friends in high places. and that is hard work.

  7. Jazz
    Posted July 18, 2015 at 8:38 am | Permalink

    why can’t it be like the little birds in the garden?

  8. Jazz
    Posted July 18, 2015 at 8:39 am | Permalink

    it’s lonely at the top…

  9. jazz
    Posted July 19, 2015 at 11:35 pm | Permalink

    having just watched the BBC programme ‘Amy Winehouse In Her Own Words’ – candid, honest… interesting to compare/contrast with Tracey Emin in ‘What Do Artists Do All Day?’ [no longer on iPlayer]

  10. jazz
    Posted July 21, 2015 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    quick search the other evening on Youtube for ‘What Do Artists Do All Day?’ pointed to another BBC programme, Tracey Emin on her collaboration with Louise Bourgeois:

    “it is not a torment to be an artist – it is a privilege!” [Louise Bourgeois, archive clip]

    useful that others have uploaded these docs in full, educational, fair use, etc.

    also excellent, LB resource on, complete prints & books.

  11. jazz
    Posted July 26, 2015 at 8:59 am | Permalink

    an interesting and articulate interview with TE in Tate etc magazine [randomly discovered via a morning walk around the twittergarden]

    Perfect bedfellows: Tracey Emin and Francis Bacon

    a couple of months back back i went to see the ‘francis bacon and the masters’ exhibition at the sainsbury centre [UEA, norwich], and a few days later watched the francis bacon biopic ‘love is the devil’.

    tracey emin, sarah lucas, and gary hume [speaking part], are extras in the film; noted in the rolling end credits [maybe other YBAs too]