Native birds hold particular resonance in New Zealand culture and have emerged as somewhat emblematic of its national identity. Once revered by Maori, their metaphorical significance is remembered in local legends, while contemporary bird imagery commonly represents the country's unique wildlife and natural environment. Fittingly, it is a subject frequently visited in visual art and although not new in Paul Dibble's lexicon of imagery, the birds in this new series of sculptures go beyond being observed subjects and become active participants in the exchange of looking. In Bird's Eye View, Dibble considers both our engagement with the birdlife around us and the imagined perspective of his bird subjects.
In the series, oversized native birds perch on and among geometric forms. As if caricatures Dibble has captured their subtle nuances; a kereru (woodpigeon) appears fat and sedentary, a playful tui swoops dramatically and a piwakawaka (fantail) brazenly looks a figure in the eye. Known for its beauty and fabled significance in local mythology, the huia (wattlebird) holds particular significance for Dibble. Unable to sustain itself through widespread deforestation and hunted to extinction the species is remembered in Dibble's renditions. They act as tribute, memorializing one of the Nation's most treasured species.
Cast from bronze, the large bird forms are immediately empowered and literally tower above the viewer, but their monolithic stature is belied by a subtle elegance of line and by the dexterous handling of materials. In more recent years Dibble has introduced Corten steel into his bronze compositions and the combination of seemingly disparate materials adds to the dynamism of the large works. Each medium is bound by the limitations of its material nature, generating vastly different aesthetic results. Unlike bronze which has a rich tradition in art history, Corten steel is primarily used industrially; most commonly cut, welded and fabricated into modular shipping containers. By comparison bronze is wholly malleable and its casting processes allows for rounder, softer forms to emerge in which the artist’s intervention is indelibly clear. The artist’s hand is further evidenced in the gestural drips and runs of patina that colour the bronze surfaces. These, alongside the corroding Corten surfaces, further highlight the disparity of mediums and together they create a stylistic union.
Where the birds locate these works within a distinctly New Zealand context, the geometric forms align Dibble's practice with European Constructionists of the mid-twentieth century. There is a subtle suggestion of time passing inThe World Below and View From Above seen in the way the birds nest on the geometric forms and the foliage grows among them. It is as if forms from modernist sculptures have migrated to the South Pacific and they have over time become entrenched in Dibble's practice.
While the scale of Dibble's birds may suggest their omnipresence in the New Zealand landscape, birds often remain unseen. Although perceptible by their songs, they generally occupy the skies and forest canopies beyond our level sightlines and maintain a vastly different perspective from how we negotiate the world. The two viewpoints are perhaps seen most clearly in Parallel Worlds and Woodpigeon Above in which a human form obliviously walks beside a bird figure, seemingly unaware of its quizzical gaze. As the exhibition title suggests, Dibble's birds emphasise the reciprocating perspective - as we may look skyward to see birds, they look downward upon us, literally envisioning the bird's eye view. (exhibition text: Anna Jackson, 2010)