More a portfolio than a book, I was delighted to pick up this compilation of watercolours by the artist Darren Rees in a charity shop. As the title makes clear the majority of the paintings are studies of birds, but there are a few landscapes mixed in as well. There are no chapters or sections to this book; it is simply pages and pages of paintings which thanks to the large format often fill a whole page or even two.
There is a foreword by Robert Gillmor and an lengthy introduction written by the artist himself in which he talks about how he begun painting, his inspirations, the meaning/purpose behind his work and why he compiled this book. Rees has also written a paragraph or two on every page for the rest of the book, talking about the painting or the bird on that page and the location of where he painted it etc. This is impressive because the book is substantial – there being over ninety full watercolours accompanied by many rough pencil sketches, so the book makes for a good read but you may have to set a whole day aside to take it all in.
The majority of the paintings were done in Wales, with a few from visits Rees took to Holland and Poland – so all of the birds are familiar European species. I will now talk about the art itself but as I am not an art critic and have little knowledge of the technique behind Rees work, I am not going to be technical or in-depth at all. Having had a good look through this book I can safely say that Rees’ command of light is exceptional, especially the colour and shades of sunlight upon the birds feathers. He seems to enjoy using the light of dawn and sunset as the vast majority of his paintings have a low sun – with some birds shown with a halo of light around them or the sun shining through their feathers as they fly. The composition is perfect in all of them and it is great that there is such a variety of subjects, for there are few birds repeated in the book. Being based in Wales, which as we all know has a splendid coastline, it is not unexpected that many of his subjects are birds of the sea and cliff, and also that the sea itself features prominently – painted masterfully with a range of colours and more often than not in a turbulent state.
The many pencil sketches throughout are very interesting as they really show Rees’ process of drawing the birds and the shapes that make up the animal in differing positions. Another good touch is that while many of the paintings are printed with a perfectly crisp and straight edge, there are quite a few scattered throughout which look as though they were painted right into the book, with visible brushstroke edges. The essence and character of each bird is also captured very well, and Rees connects them well with their landscape and habitat; I do like that the birds themselves are painted as either very life-like or quite impressionistic.
For any bird-lover or art-lover or resident of Wales this is a must have portfolio and would make a superb present or coffee-table book – as long as it is given pride of place!