The way of all butterflies
Canberra Times, July 12, 2015
Look closely: Johannes Stoetter's The Parrot. Photo: Johannes Stoetter
Bird lovers flock to this column (like geese to a wetland) knowing there are likely to be fine pictures of fine birds here.
There is nothing kitsch about today's other picture, Canberra sculptor Stephen Harrison's Butterfly Skull.
The famous mine will be at Floriade too, bristling among the tulips, for this year's Floriade is to have wartime themes, to coincide with commemorations of the centenary of the Great War. We usually boycott the horticultural horror, the tulipy kitsch of Floriade, but thanks to these artists this year's sounds promising.
"So I've taken as reference points the notions of enclosure, peril and surveillance," Harrison notes.
He finds that "there's a lot of death" in the bush and even in and around a sanctuary, and so he has posed a butterfly on a skull. No, he laughs, he didn't come across many human skulls among the bleached (animal) bones at Mulligans Flat but he has been dabbling a bit with vanitas themes. Vanitas works, especially associated with still-life painting in Flanders and the Netherlands in the 16th and 17th centuries, harped on human vanity and reminded us that for all our earthly narcissism we will all go the way of all flesh. And so skulls are important artefacts in vanitas-themed works. Harrison has brought an echo of 16th century Flanders into a work about 21st century Gungahlin.
But why, we quizzed, an all-white butterfly? It is an odd thing to do (we nagged, pretending not to like it while secretly admiring it like anything) given that real butterflies are so brightly patterned.
It's because, he says, he's going through an all-white phase in which he's being reminded of pale marble. And, importantly, he wanted to present a sculpted, imagined, fanciful Mulligans Flat butterfly, totally unlike the photo-realistic portrayals of identified butterfly species a wildlife artist might do for a field guide.
*A bird-loving reader stumbled online across this artwork. What looks like a parrot is in fact a female model transformed by Austria's Johannes Stoetter, a fine-art body painter. Using "breathable" paint (thank goodness, after what happened to Bond girl Shirley Eaton in the 1964 Goldfinger, murdered by "epidermal suffocation" after her voluptuous nude body is painted in glittering gold), he spent hours painstakingly turning this woman into the image of a parrot. The model's arm forms the parrot's head and beak, and her legs form the wing and tail feathers.
Once you see her, the bird disappears, although one of the worries is that having seen this one may never look at a crimson rosella again (yes, we know this parrot woman has macaw qualities too) without seeing instead a painted woman.
Johannes Stoetter has give us kind permission to use the picture and so it is rude and ungrateful of us to say there is something kitsch about it.