Skip to main content Close up of Pgisrn… Gprins… Spring, a painting by Kate Phoenix.

Inspiration: Bird Paintings

A painting is a collection of memories. Hazy recollections, refracted through time, and played out in paint and ink on canvas. There are abstract recollections, daubed with thick, clumsy strokes. And other memories, recalled in detailed technicolour, where painting becomes an obsession. Dreams given substance in fat brushstrokes, in careful lines. The light and the shade. Some memories are obliterated completely, destroyed, painted over, scratched out. Minds are untidy, overgrown places. Wonderful, terrible places. Repositories of stories. They spill out what they will.

Kate Phoenix dancing.

I am two, maybe three, failing to nap in a pushchair, parked in the shade of a cherry blossom tree. Birds far above, glide in and out of view, framed by a riot of pink blooms, against an azure sky. I block out the sun with a chubby hand, fingers splayed wide. The minute, floating spectres weave in and out of my fingers.

I am seven, maybe eight, standing on a harbour beach in early May, poised to consume a syrupy mass of vanilla ice cream. There is a screech in amongst the clouds, and I temporarily lose focus on my sweet reward. I watch a gull fly a perfect circle in the sky, its wings beating idly in the still air. It is a decoy. Designed to mesmerise, to distract. Another gull swoops in, and suddenly my hand is weightless. Only a thin film of sticky cream remains on my fingers, still gripping the air. I return a few salt tears to the sea. We shake our fists wildly at the sky.

St Ives harbour.

After M and I got married, we lived in a tiny converted barn in the English countryside. The loveliest home I have ever known. That is, apart from its glacial winter temperatures. On a clear night, when the lights were off, moonlight shone through holes in the walls. It was dark and cave-like, with small windows, and a ceiling that rose into an apex in the rafters. In the morning, we’d watch deer bound across the meadow and pheasants scatter, a mass of anxious feathers on tiny legs. A muntjac snuffled around in the long grass. I was still finishing my degree at the time, and I’d take my books out into the meadow to study. The deer became bolder and we’d share a corner of the grass, quietly, as only introverts do.

I don’t remember any birds from our time at the barn. The drawback of being spoilt for choice is we forget to look up. One particularly icy January, we swapped the countryside for the town. As spring broke, gulls populated the sky. We were renovating, and had no heating, just a condemned gas fire in the corner, awaiting its final end. I remember working in bed, hiding from the builder, enveloped in a quilt and blankets, my breath meeting the air in puffs of smoke. The curtains were wide open, letting the spring light flood in. I watched the gulls dancing in the sky, screeching with a new, maternal aggression. There was a mad, choric laughing, like they were mocking each other. And all the while they were floating on a zephyr, travelling the sky roads.

Birds flying in the sky.

I hadn’t painted in years, but we had some blank walls, and I’d run out of excuses. When I finally got to work, I realised I had been painting this in my head, all along.

A painting of a flock of birds by Kate Phoenix.

Sky Roads I, Kate Phoenix, 2014, acrylic and mixed media on canvas, 1.2m x 1.5m.

This was a second piece I made, which was also inspired by birds.

A painting of a flock of birds flying up from a meadow and into the sky, by Kate Phoenix.

Sky Roads II, Kate Phoenix, 2016, acrylic, ink and mixed media on canvas, 1m x 1m. SOLD.