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Hanoch Piven Reinterprets Audubon’s Roseate Spoonbill

Posted on 07/17/14 by Sally

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In the early nineteenth century, John James Audubon set out to visually capture the entire ornithological catalog of North America. The famous naturalist ended up painting nearly 500 of the 700 most common avian species, and the result was Birds of America, a seven-volume text that was initially published in a series of sections between 1827 and 1838.

Since last year Audubon magazine's creative director Kevin Fisher has been recreating those images with the help of accomplished illustrators—including Olaf Hajek, David Plunkert, Brandon Ballengee, Greg Mably, and David Cowles—in a regular feature called “Audubon's Illustrated Aviary.” When invited to participate in this year's July/August issue, Hanoch Piven decided to take on the Roseate Spoonbill.

“Obviously the name 'spoonbill' and the actual beak of the bird was instrumental in my initial choices,” Hanoch says. (How could any caricaturist resist such a clear visual pun?) “When you communicate or tell a story visually, I feel like you need to use some familiar or even expected language to establish a dialogue, and then you can surprise with another object.”

Among those other objects were a two-color tennis ball, a hot water bottle, and flamenco dancers' fans. “I rarely know exactly what is the right object,” Hanoch explains. “Usually the process is that only by going outside and getting this big stimulus of many, many images, I discover the right object to use.”

In some ways, the artistic trajectory of the assignment followed an expected path for Hanoch. “Just as when I make a caricature of a person and I try to get as many images or videos of the person, the same happened here, and I looked for many pictures and videos of Roseate Spoonbills,” he says. “But—and that is a big but—I had a big limitation here, as I felt that the pose of the Spoonbill in the illustration of James Audubon needed to be reproduced, or at least suggested. And that was the special thing about this illustration. It wasn't just an illustration of a Spoonbill, but an homage to another illustration of a Spoonbill.”

Written by Eve Tolpa

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