The Book of the Bird | Book Review


As a boy in short trousers, our good friend and previous contributor, Conor Stevens used to tell people that he wanted to be an ornithologist. So who better to review the newest Angus Hyland publication all about our feathered friends, The Book of the Bird.

As a snot-nosed brat I used to tell anyone who would listen (and many who would have preferred not to) that when I grew up, I wanted to be an ornithologist. Not a footballer. Not a fireman. An ornithologist. I would drag my old man to Bull Island at the crack of dawn for a chance sighting of a Sandpiper, or maybe a black-tailed Godwit. Those were good times, halcyon days. However, with the inevitable corruption of adolescence, the allure of chasing tail feathers was supplanted by more mammalian pursuits and the fog of testosterone robbed the young me of his ornithological destiny.


Nevertheless it was with a degree of boyish delight that I thumbed through my review copy of ‘The Book of the Bird’ (Birds in Art). These depictions did not resemble the sterile, Victorian illustrations within the covers of my childhood spotter’s guide. These were something entirely different, less interested in pretty plumage then in what it means to be a bird, what these soaring things mean to us. Within poetry, the experience of birds often resides unseen, in their song or their call, in the whisper of a linnet’s wings – in visual art these wondrous creatures can take full flight into our consciousness.


Drawn as I often am to the monochrome, I particularly relished the stark silhouettes of Constance Mier’s Gulls and Cormorants and the mystical stillness of Rhohei Tanaka’s Crow. The sole photograph to feature in this collection – Bill Brandt’s Early Morning on the Thames does as much to illustrate the potential of his medium as it does to describe the effortless swoop and hurl of a gliding gull. I urge you to google it. Beyond the world of black and white this wonderful book serves to underline the beauty and bewildering variety of these once dinosaurs as well as their profound symbolic power.


As with last year’s delightful ‘Book of the Dog’, this volume is again the brainchild of Angus Hyland, design director of Pentagram London and speaker at OFFSET 2016. He, along with writer Kendra Wilson, has again outdone himself, outdone themselves. I ate this book up with my eyes. Feasted on it like carrion. You will continue to peck at it whenever you pass it in the bookcase. It is a tonic for us, the earthbound watchers of things.


Conor Stevens is the copywriting half of creative partnership Mr&Mrs Stevens and does not regret his life choices.