Parliament of Fowles 3: Sparrowhawk (2018, wax on paper)

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This visceral contribution to the Parliament of Fowles series vividly captures the chaos and violence of a sparrowhawk’s abrupt descent among its prey. The hawk is barely outlined and seems both lightning-fast and larger than life, its wings seeming to loom and threaten as much as beak and claw, while the mix of red and blue colouring among the scattering birds of the hedgerow hints both at terror and also at the fate of one or more among them.

The impact and violence of the piece powerfully evokes Chaucer’s line, in Troilus and Criseyde, in which the strike of a sparrowhawk is used as a fleeting metaphor for violence, passionate, irresistible sexual contact – a metaphor with more than a few disturbing resonances in the age of #MeToo: ‘What myghte or may the sely larke seye / Whan that the sperhauk hath it in his foot?’ (III.1191-2). Combined with the boiling energy of the drawing, and the sparrowhawk’s reputation as nigh-on untameable, the most difficult of all raptors to use for falconry, this allusion serves to reflect back to us profound questions about our own animal nature. Is it futile to attempt to codify the sexual dynamics between men and women, even in our highly complex society? What happens to the erotic interplay between the sexes when sexual aggression is re-coded as unacceptably violent? Have we really succeeded in transcending our animal nature, and if not, might it be better to acknowledge it more openly?

Sparely drawn but richly allusive, the work gestures both toward and away from the perennial struggle within each of us between human civilisation and our animal nature.

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