John Wolseley and Barry Hill: Lines for Birds - Art Collector

19 April 2011 | Artist John Wolseley and poet Barry Hill travelled from rural Victoria to South East Asia, Japan and France to produce Lines for Birds, a book of paintings and poems.

The collaboration between artist and poet germinated when Hill, an award-winning poet saw Wolseley’s exhibition
Tracing the Wallace Line and began scripting a number of poems. Meanwhile, Wolseley who was painting in bushfire-destroyed Victoria had one of Hill’s poems pinned to the wall of his studio.

In the introduction of
Lines for Birds, Wolseley and Hill say their interest in birds is personal rather than scientific, reflective rather than analytic.

“Many of these birds are simply part of our life, they came and come into our lives as presences…the more we value a living thing, the more we are unavoidably anguished by the idea of its extinction”.

Wolseley spent his boyhood in Somerset and moved to Australia in 1976. His engagement with the natural world has deepened as his artistic career flourished with a number of his major exhibitions inspired by sand dunes and the differences between organisms living on the Wallace Line. Hill on the other hand has a doctorate in Philosophy from the University of London and is best known for his political essays. He is currently the poetry editor of
The Australian newspaper.

Lines for Birds is organised into six sections beginning with ‘Scrub Land’ and the poem, ‘Eagerly We Burn’ and concluding with ‘Return’. Both Hill and Wolseley discuss the close relationship of music and birdsong and coin the term “the harmonics of birds” to describe the variety of bird species.

Wolseley’s working method of accumulating ideas in notebooks is to an extent replicated in
Lines for Birds. Likewise, Hill’s political impulse may be discovered in the wistful last line of the introduction.

“When a bird arrives in our midst its presence signifies at least one clear thing, that is that its not too late, not yet”.


Amy Yang

Lines for Birds in published by the University of Western Australia Publishing.

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