ART REVIEW: Morgan Bulkeley: Bird Story at Berkshire Museum

Morgan Bulkeley's 'Beak Morphology'

(PITTSFIELD, Mass.) – Berkshire artist Morgan Bulkeley’s playful, fabulistic landscapes are the subject of a solo exhibition at Berkshire Museum now through March 4, 2012, in the museum’s Ellen Crane Memorial Room. Morgan Bulkeley: Bird Story is a terrific companion exhibition to the sprawling, epic major exhibition, Taking Flight: Audubon and the World of Birds, in the museum’s main exhibition space.

Bulkeley’s whimsical oil paintings combine naturalism and pop, juxtaposing, for example, familiar grocery items and cartoon characters with birds, so that an owl tramples Mickey Mouse (poor Mickey, but he is a Disney character, after all). Bulkeley’s densely populated images are bright and slightly hallucinatory in their formal qualities as well as in their shimmering palpability and narrative content.

Flocks of meticulously rendered owls, hawks, spoonbills, and birds of all descriptions swoop and soar across the fifteen large paintings that comprise the exhibition. Although the work is never self-indulgent – humans are rendered as biomorphs rather than actual human beings – it is occasionally self-referential, as in War Wounds, which is peppered with images of half-empty tubes of oil paint.

Morgan Bulkeley's 'New Eats'

Bulkeley is a visual storyteller whose vivid, busy landscapes are rendered in deft, staccato brushstrokes. Bulkeley’s art is strongly influenced by his Berkshire upbringing; his family has deep roots in the area going back several generations. Bulkeley’s wry humor, bold and brilliant palette, and unfettered imagination are expressed in his depictions of animated, cartoon-like humans who interact with one another and with an array of detailed birds and wildlife, all grounded in an awareness of the landscape and the environment.

“It’s important that we don’t lose the ability to look into the heart of nature,” says Bulkeley, whose artwork is inspired by the natural world. “Our environment is the matrix of our existence. If we don’t take care of it we won’t be here forever.”

“Morgan Bulkeley’s paintings, with their strong narrative quality, draw the viewer back again and again – finding something new in the canvases at each viewing. His work is so distinctive and lives at that intersection of art and science, where one’s observation of the natural world leads toward an aesthetic, expressive end,” says Maria Mingalone, the museum’s director of interpretation and the curator of Bird Story.

In Beak Morphology (2000), oil on canvas, part of Berkshire Museum’s permanent collection since 2008, Bulkeley depicts beautifully detailed, naturalistic owls and spoonbills swooping over a cluttered meadow populated by cartoon birds – Woody Woodpecker and Tweety – and four humans who have strapped beak-like protuberances to their faces: a boot, a corn cob, a telephone, and a stick.

“We are enthusiastic about showcasing Morgan Bulkeley’s exploration of the dynamic intersection of culture and nature that compels us to consider our relationship with each other and other living systems and our environment,” says Van Shields, the museum’s executive director. “He clearly signals that people are part of, and not apart from, nature, and begs us to understand what that means.”

Morgan Bulkeley

Bulkeley is an accomplished painter and sculptor with numerous solo and group shows in galleries and museums to his credit; his work is represented in private collections and in the permanent collections of several museums, including Berkshire Museum. Bulkeley is one of the local artists chosen to illustrate BerkShares, the regional currency, and in 2006, he illustrated Berkshire Stories, a compilation of essays by his father, Morgan Bulkeley Sr.

Morgan Bulkeley was born in the Berkshires in 1944 and raised on a small farm in the town of Mount Washington, where his parents, both naturalists, tended many wild, orphaned animals. He graduated from Yale University in 1966 with a B.A. in English literature, and after a stint in the Coast Guard, spent a year in Newark drawing, and working with VISTA programs. The next 14 years were spent in Cambridge, Mass., painting and sculpting, until, in 1985, he returned to his childhood home, where he lives with his wife, Eleanor Tillinghast: the two of them cofounded the organization Green Berkshires.

His work is included in the current group show, The Birding Life, at Ferrin Gallery, 437 North St., Pittsfield, Mass., through February 28. Bulkeley’s work will be featured in a show at the Howard Yezerski Gallery beginning May 25, 2012.

Bulkeley has had solo shows at the Danforth Museum in Framingham, Mass., the Welles Gallery in Lenox, Mass., the Bachelier-Cardonsky Gallery in Kent, Conn., the Carone Gallery in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and the DeCordova Museum in Lincoln, Mass. Bulkeley has been represented by the Howard Yezerski Gallery in Boston, Mass., for many years.

His work also has been included in group shows at the Danforth Museum, the Geoffrey Young Gallery in Great Barrington, Mass., the Janet Kurnatowski Gallery in Brooklyn, N.Y., the St. Botolph Club in Boston, Mass., the Jeff Bailey Gallery in New York, N.Y., the Hudson River Museum in Yonkers, N.Y., the DeCordova Museum, the New Bedford Art Museum in New Bedford, Mass., the Art Complex Museum in Duxbury, Mass., and many others.




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