|Katrina Van Grouw|
DETAILS The drawings in Katrina Van Grouw's
"The Unfeathered Bird" were all based on real specimens. Here, a common coot.
By JAMES GORMAN
Published: February 11, 2013
In the acknowledgments to her unsettling and irresistible book, “The Unfeathered Bird,” Katrina van Grouw pauses in her listing of names to say, “I must assure readers that no birds were harmed during the making of this book.”
It seems an odd disclaimer for a collection of bird drawings, until you look at the drawings. The birds in this book are not merely unfeathered, they are also skinned, skeletal and sometimes — to serve the presentation of a skull or a wing, a tongue or a trachea — disassembled.
Then they are drawn and described in the text, with great skill and attention to the details — of their structure, their evolution and their lives — and with a slightly wicked sense of humor that appears often enough to lift the book beyond another compendium of bird life.
A certain amount of mischief is inherent in the plan of the book. The birds, sometimes muscled, sometimes only skeletons, all drawn from real specimens that either died accidentally or were already preserved in collections, are posed as they might have been in life — flying, standing, walking.
The resulting drawings, detailed and monochromatic, will please those with a taste for the mildly grotesque. I particularly loved the red-and-green macaw and budgerigar that appear on facing pages. The macaw is drawn with most of its skin removed, but it retains its musculature, scaly feet, and piercing eyes that stare directly at you as it perches on one leg, holding a pencil to its beak with its other foot. The stare seems to demand a response, but I had no idea what to say.