Leila Jeffreys, Buckbeak, 2019, photographic print on fibre based cotton rag paper, 91 x 72 cm. Edition of 30 + 2 APs. Image courtesy of the artist and OLSEN.
I caught a friend gazing at a denuded plant in my garden the other day. “Somebody ate it,” I responded to her unspoken question. “Somebody?” she replied. “You know, a caterpillar.” She looked at me quizzically. I guess we aren’t meant to call bugs (or birds or dogs for that matter) somebody. But what else are they? They certainly aren’t things.
In her portraits of birds, Leila Jeffreys leaves no doubt that we are looking at somebody. The Sydney-based artist presents her avian sitters as elegant sentient beings with individual personalities in her solo show High Society.
Her large scale photographs are so perfectly composed that it’s hard to imagine how she got so many birds to sit still long enough. Never work with kids or animals, or so the saying goes; Jeffreys clearly is some kind of bird-whisperer.
Her subjects are so still –so cool, so calm, feathers so unruffled – that it seems at first that they might actually be stuffed. Dead as the proverbial dodo. But Jeffreys has captured the glints in their eyes, something resembling a smile in a certain beak; somebody is definitely at home in this High Society.
Olsen Gruin, New York
November 13 – 6 January 2020.