Why Maggies ...

Why Maggies ...

"But they are such horrible birds," says my American-raised friend, who has been swooped too many times.

Rosey doesn't know much about magpies - other than her instinct to duck as they fly by. She isn't aware of the unique bond that develops during the 20-year lifespan of these birds.

They come to us for food, learning to trust us, bringing their babies to visit, marching into our homes if we are a bit slow to arrive with the minced meat. We get the pleasure of watching them raise their families and stop what we are doing when they sing for us, voices rising and falling in curlicues of harmony.

Here are some other things that Rosey is learning:

1. Maggies marry for life and then, if the mother dies, the father may marry one of his daughters.

2. They recognise our faces.

3. Only between eight and 10 per cent of magpies ever swoop people (in nesting season). But if they know you as a friend, they will leave you alone.

4. Magpies can hear the sound of grubs and worms under the ground. Wow.

5. Magpies are brilliant mimics. This one does a siren and various other birds. Ours used to imitate our siamese cat.


But why do I paint so many of them? Well, I started when I was looking through my mother's old photographs for inspiration. She had some photos of her magpie friends looking magnificent. Then, I found that the paintings really resonated with people.

I think so many of us have had friendly maggies in our lives and, pretty much, a Sydney magpie looks pretty much like all Sydney magpies. An alpine magpie looks pretty much like the others. It is not like painting a spaniel that comes in so many shapes, sizes and colours. When people see the painting of the magpie, I think they see the magpie they have known.

So there is an immediate connection between the viewer and the subject of the painting.

As an artist, I love painting them because they are such an elegant bird, with their long bodies and powerful shoulders. They make interesting curves and shapes when they twist. Their plumage is simple, which makes it easy to set them against an interesting background. Painting the feathers is a challenge to get the oil-slick colours that bounce off the black.

I love them in the "Kardashian pose", where they stand with their back towards the viewer - showing off the most interesting plumage - looking over their shoulder at you as if they are doing a booty shot for Instagram.

So what is with the backgrounds? I have found that, as time has gone by, I have become increasingly interested in including pattern in my paintings. It started as I painted my cat, and then my dog, relaxing on my Indiennes print cushions. I have always loved that pattern and I have bought the material numerous times over the past 16 years to cover various things.

That appreciation folds into my interest in the Arts and Crafts movement and designers such as William Morris. You can see these patterns and designs all through my work - including in my dress in this painting.

So why is the bird inside? Good question. To start with, it just was. I was putting together things that interested me: the birds, the patterns and the colours. I kept thinking I should have some rationale for having them inside, or perhaps should play with the botanical nature of the patterns in some way to justify the fact they were indoors. But then my friend, the esteemed painter Lucy Cullition, told me, with a shrug: "Well, they are domestic birds..." That is good enough for me.

Where to now? I have started perching the birds on furniture instead of branches. That makes more sense to me and, fortunately, I also have a love of bent wood Thonet chairs. I can explore that for a while and see where that leads me. One of the joys of art, for me, is that I start at one point, not knowing where I am going and a pathway reveals itself to me bit by bit.

This is an expedition with no end (except for when I end). 


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