Drawings for the birds


BIRD in the hand. A drawing by Willem Truter. Photograph courtesy Pretoria Arts Association

In 1943, a curious little book of stories about animals was published. Little Veld Folk was penned by one Cecil J. Shirley, it was aimed at a child readership, but its intense pen and ink drawings, particularly one about a bird who was vain, offers an edgy glance at deep avian violence. When you visit Willem Truter’s exhibition of some 30 drawings on paper, at the Pretoria Arts Association, something of that frisky feathered gutsiness is evoked.

Called In the Presence of Wings, this is a highly competent collection of charcoal drawings. Each skirts cliché with strong calligraphic mark making and an understanding of the magic of ornithology, space and bird anatomy. They make you think of your own spirit animal as they evoke a tweeting and a whistling, a cooing and a hooting as you look.

It’s a pity the works are not framed but are, rather, attached to the gallery wall with paper clips. Though this manner of posting work has become fashionable and acceptable in most gallery contexts, old habits do die hard, and this does detract from the exhibition’s professionality.

In the case of these beautiful drawings, however, it’s a limit you quickly forget and forgive as you immerse yourself eyes first in these small drawings, rendered with a powerful, engrossing sense of line that finds its way through bone and sinew, feather and beak.

In the Presence of Wings is an understated exhibition on show for merely one more week, but it’s a gem of a collection of drawings and attests to the wonderful of great skill.

  • In the Presence of Wings by Willem Truter is at the Chaton Gallery, Pretoria Arts Association, in Bailey’s Muckleneuk, Pretoria, until March 27. Phone 012 346 3100.



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