Laura Castell: The Great Bowerbird

From top:
Laura Castell, Bower,  reduction linocut, 38×28.5 cm,edition of 8
Laura Castell, Silver, reduction linocut and silver-leaf16.5×16.5 cm, edition of 10
Laura Castell, Red Chillies, reduction linocut, 45 x 32 cm, edition of 8
Laura Castell, Pink Crown, reduction linocut, 51 x 36 cm, edition of 8

Laura Castell discusses her new Townsville exhibition Suburban Wildlife, The Great Bowerbird, with Megan Hanrahan.

IMPRINT: What is the main concept, inspiration and history behind your exhibition?

LC: I live in a relatively small city, rapidly growing but still retaining the beauty of offering the opportunity to see many animals every day, especially birds. I have used birds as the subjects for my prints for some time, usually to highlight their beauty and the pleasant feeling of ‘nature’ they give us. Many of these are local birds that have adjusted well to live in the suburbs.  The Great Bowerbird is particularly interesting, it has become very common in Townsville and although there are a few other species in this tropical region, this particular species has become very successful around our suburbs.

Our effect on this bird, whether detrimental or not, is unmistakable. The male builds a beautiful large structure at ground level called the ‘bower’ and bowers are as common in local parks as they are in peoples’ yards. The bower is like the tail of the peacock or the red throat pouch of the frigate bird, its ‘beauty’ is essential to attract the female. Male bower birds spend an incredible amount of time building, maintaining and adorning the bower, however, they are increasingly using our ‘waste’ as ornaments. There is a striking contrast between the naturalness of the bower and the un-naturalness of many of its ornaments. In this exhibition I want to highlight the beauty of this bird and its bower, but also that contrast I refer to above. The bird and what it does is incredibly beautiful, but the appearance of man-made objects, often those we have discarded as garbage, can inject an uncomfortable feeling to what we see.

IMPRINT: Would you be able to explain the methods and techniques you use, and why you enjoy using this particular style with your work? Does it lend your work particular aspects that you love more than other styles/methods?

LC: The exhibition consists of three components. 1) The majority of the works are prints made using relief techniques, mostly linocut but also woodcut or a combination of both, either using a reduction technique or multiple blocks, 2) an artist book, also done using linocuts, and 3) a small three dimensional work that recreates the bird, the bower and its ornaments, using mostly natural and man-made recycled materials, relief printed fabric and ornaments provided by people who placed themselves in the position of the bower bird as choosers of treasure to attract a partner. For the prints and artist book, linocut was a first choice because it allowed me to work easily with cutting fine, more precise lines, but I am in love with the more unpredictable mark of woodcuts and often use it in my figurative work.

I started my art studies with drawing so printmaking was an easy choice for me to expand my repertoire of techniques. I love the power of the black and white image and I am now exploring the introduction of tone and colour using relief techniques, although I am still at a very early stage in this exploration. I am also attracted to the relative immediacy of the relief methods.

IMPRINT: What captivates you about your work, and continues to keep you interested?

LC: Art allows me to speak without having to use words. As many, I have increasingly worrying feelings about how humans are interfering with and changing the environment and the effect this is having on animals, plants and people. Another part of my work not reflected in this exhibition is my interest in social issues. I am attracted to the opportunity that art gives me to express these feelings in a visual manner as gently or as confronting as I need. I rely on beauty as a way to reach the viewer, a beauty that hopefully can then open the door to a deeper interaction with the image.

Although I dabble in other media, the extensive possibilities of printmaking keep me in a continuous state of fascination that drives me to use printmaking as my main art form. Every new image is always a challenge that leads to new discoveries and with every lesson learned the possibilities keep increasing, making it irresistible. I am becoming more daring in my approach to making the image, always looking into the repertoire of techniques to add subtle complexity.

IMPRINT: What do you find unique and special about the Bowerbird above other sources of inspiration? Do you have a personal connection or affinity with this particular animal?

LC: I trained and worked as a biologist for over 20 years, only recently becoming a full time artist. I have observed this bird locally for many years and I am fascinated by its reproductive mating behaviour. Even more, I was lucky that during the preparation of work for the exhibition, a young male bower bird chose a spot right next to my studio to display his behaviour, giving me hours of unique observations. Its obvious interaction with humans through the collection of ‘waste’ is very interesting because it could be one of the rarer examples where our interference with nature may not necessarily have negative effects. For now only time will tell.

IMPRINT: What lasting impressions do you hope that people take away with them after visiting Suburban Wildlife?

LC: I hope viewers will become more aware of the beauty and complex behaviour of this incredible bird and for those who have the opportunity and find a bower while out there, the exhibition will encourage them to spend some time to notice what treasures the bird has chosen and how many of them are our ‘garbage’. I also hope people will be encouraged to observe more and appreciate our ‘suburban’ wildlife as well as be more sensitised to the possible ways humans can affect the wild animals that live around us.

Suburban Wildlife, The Great Bowerbird is at Access Space, Umbrella Studio, Townsville, 21 April to 28 May

https://umbrella.org.au/venue/access-space/