Andrew Lambirth

Bird watching | 12 November 2011

The setting is appropriate: Rochelle School is on Arnold Circus in Shoreditch, at the end of Club Row, once famous for its pet market, where, until it was closed down in 1983, you could buy caged birds from around the world. Now the school is hosting an exhibition entitled Ghosts of Gone Birds (till 23 November), a wide-ranging and stylistically eclectic show with a single emotive theme: extinct birds. More than 100 artists, musicians and writers, including Peter Blake, Margaret Atwood and Ralph Steadman, have made work in aid of BirdLife International’s Preventing Extinction scheme.

Steadman did one picture and then found himself gripped by the theme, and went on to produce 100 witty, poignant and highly original bird portraits (‘Dodo’, above). The organisers have given him a room to himself, hung from floor to ceiling with his colourful and dynamic drawings, some of which, like the Lesser Peruvian Blue-Beaked Blotswerve, spring from the imaginative ferment of Steadman’s brain rather than from ornithological records. One look at his Blackened Thront and you see why it might be extinct (the world wasn’t ready for it).
The exhibition is a gallimaufry of sculpture, paintings, drawings and prints of varying quality and interest. I liked Philip Hardaker’s old guitar decorated with ceramic plaques and Colin Self’s brilliant multicoloured bird. But whether you like the art or not, the cause is a just and urgent one: in the past 30 years, 21 species have disappeared. All support welcome.

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