Full of extraordinary creatures, the illustrated series The Creative Specimens seamlessly combines species into unusual hybrids. Similar in color, each organism is bizarre in form. The feathered head of a bird is placed on a tortoise’s body, octopus tentacles sprout from the bottom of a cactus, and speckled coral comprises a deer’s antlers.
Adobe’s 99U Conference spurred the collaborative project as a way to offer a visual language encompassing various creative careers and passions. Inspired by the biological classifications of Charles Darwin and his contemporaries, New York-based art director and graphic designer Mark Brooks digitally rendered the organisms by referencing vintage illustrations. He then passed the project to Joanmiquel Bennasar, an illustrator living and working in the Balearic Islands, who recreated the creatures in watercolor.
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In the last few months, underwater footage has transported us into the depths of the previously unexplored Ningaloo Canyons and glimpsed the stunning blanket octopus as she unfurls her iridescent web. Now, the San Diego Zoo dives below the surface to capture the unusual ways flamingos eat.
Their pink-feathered heads plunge underwater to suck up mud and other debris from the sandy bottom. Filter-like plates called lamella trap shrimp and other aquatic creatures before dispersing the rest through the sides of their bills. Make sure you turn the volume up to hear the ungainly birds’ equally strange noises.
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Step Inside Petrit Halilaj's Monumental Nest of Oversized Flowers Within Reina Sofia's Palacio de Cristal
Bowerbirds are renowned for one of the most unusual courtship behaviors in the animal kingdom, where males build elaborately decorated nests—called bowers—in an attempt to court a mate. Kosovar visual artist Petrit Halilaj drew inspiration from this unique ritual for his first solo exhibition at Reina Sofia’s Palacio de Cristal (previously) in Madrid. Titled “To a raven and the hurricanes which bring back smells of humans in love from unknown places,” the installation serves as a metaphorical nest that connects the inside and outside spaces of the palace and features several avian elements like trays of birdseed and a giant pair of bird’s feet that descend from above.
The collection of artworks is actually a collaborative effort between Halijaj and his life partner artist Álvaro Urbano, who helped construct the oversized forsythia, palm seeds, cherry blossom, poppy, carnation, and lily that fill the space. “I wanted to conceive Palacio de Cristal as a place for the celebration of love,” Halijaj shares. From the museum’s release:
There is something strange and disproportionate about the size of this nest, the gigantic scale of its flowers, and the comfort and centrality it offers the birds. The artist thus suspends the logo-centric perspective that makes us believe we are the center and measure of all things, encouraging us to recognize ourselves as just one more element among many. The nest is thus revealed as the setting for a ritual that lies in wait for encounters, alliances and unions among its different visitors, altering and changing with the space.
“To a raven...” is open now through February 28, 2021, at the Palacio de Cristal, and you can see more views on Yellowtrace.
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The winning shots from the renowned Bird Photographer of the Year contest capture the mundane moments and extraordinary adventures of our avian neighbors. From a sleepy owl camouflaged by tree bark to a lurching great crested grebe, the stunning birds shown here were chosen out of more than 15,000 entries from photographers around the globe.
The charity organization Birds on the Brink hosted the fifth-annual competition, and profits garnered go directly toward conservation efforts. Explore the full collection, which also is compiled in a 256-page book, on the contest’s site.
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In London Fieldworks’ delicate creations, architecture meets nature. Its installations feature pine-colored clusters of minuscule wooden forms that appear to grow upon vast tree trunks. Founded by artists Bruce Gilchrist and Jo Joelson, London Fieldworks is a collaborative and multidisciplinary arts practice with projects at the intersection of architecture, sculpture, installation, and film.
Each of the homes has rounded windows and doors, while those on large evergreen trees resemble natural objects, such as wasp and hornet nests or even fungi and mushrooms. From reflecting Clerkenwell’s urban renewal to offering new habitats for animals, the sprawling birdhouses fuse architectural ideas with nature and art, resulting in sculptures that integrate effortlessly in both natural and urban spaces. Through its installations, the practice explores its concern with the climate crisis through the lens of history, the environment, and culture.
One work, “Spontaneous City in the Tree of Heaven,” references opposite sides of London: Duncan Terrace Gardens in the east and Cremorne Gardens in the west. The installation is constructed from hundreds of bespoke bird boxes reflecting the forms of the local architecture—a combination of Modernist 60’s social housing and Georgian townhouses.
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Two new paintings by Kerry James Marshall feature a central crow that looms over a botanical backdrop. One or two birdhouses, which have entrances that are too small for the blackbirds to fit through, are perched on the leafy branches along with more petite species. Part of an ongoing series, the acrylic paintings are based on John James Audubon’s Birds of America, an archetypal text cataloging 435 life-size watercolors of avian creatures.
Marshall’s artworks provide a multivalent counterhistory to conceptions of race in the United States. While Audubon is recognized widely for his contribution to ecology and natural history in America, his own background is conflicting. The ornithologist was born as Jean Rabin in Haiti to unmarried parents: his father was a white plantation owner, while his mother’s identity is not as well-documented. However, many people believe she was a Creole chambermaid who may have had a mixed racial heritage. When Audubon migrated to the United States in the 19th century, he changed his name and masked his potentially biracial background.
Throughout his life, the famous birdwatcher and artist both supported and actively participated in chattel slavery, enslaving and selling people throughout the early 1800s. Audubon, who passed as white, also sought out relationships with presidents James Harrison and Andrew Jackson to promote his studies. In 1976, though, the artist’s work was included by curator David C. Driskell in his exhibition Two Centuries of Black American Art, which positioned Audubon within the Black arts canon.
Today, Marshall utilizes ornithologist’s studies as a way to consider the narratives around race in his series, Black and part Black Birds in America, which on view virtually through August 30 at David Zwirner. The Chicago-based artist paints large crows in chromatic black, which is composed entirely of dark reds, blues, or greens. Another smaller bird, like a goldfinch or cardinal, has the deep shade on its face or wings, evoking the one-drop rule, or the claim that one Black ancestor was enough to grant a relative that same identity.
Because Marshall forgoes actual black pigment when painting, he evidences that racial categories are simply a social construction rather than a biological fact. Similarly, the ambiguous titles of the series compare the classification of birds to that of people, utilizing the color to reference both the creatures’ feathers and human categorization of race. “None of us works in isolation. Nothing we do is disconnected from the social, political, economic, and cultural histories that trail behind us. The value of what we produce is determined by comparison with and in contrast to what our fellow citizens find engaging,” Marshall says.
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Editor's Picks: Craft
Highlights below. For the full collection click here.