Thursday, March 04, 2010

How to paint the portrait of a bird

How to Paint the Portrait of a Bird
by Jacques Prevert
Illustration and Transalation by Mordicai Gerstein

Ages 6-10

Jacques Prevert was a mid-twentieth-century poet, surrealist, and screenwriter and this original poem of his (Pour faire le portrait d'un oiseau), was transalated into English and illustrated by the magical hand of Caldecott Medalist, Mordicai Gerstein.

In essence, it is a "poetic exploration of the sources of creative expression." And a very lyrical, gentle, humorous way of understanding that creating a work of art takes patience, and understanding and a tremendous lightness of being!

A young boy is woken up by the sound of a bird, singing on his windowsill. He is inspired. And he sets out to draw the portrait of the bird. But how do you draw the portrait of a bird?

First paint a cage...
with an open door.

Then in the cage, paint something for the bird,
something useful and beautiful, but simple.

And while the boy does this, the bird is hovering over him, watching on, and you almost think its going to fly right in to the cage and be a part of his picture. But if it were that simple, this wouldn't be a book!

Then take the picture to a garden
...or a park
...or a forest.

and the bird follows him all through, and you feel the thrill of the question hanging overhead....what is going to happen next?

Will the right natural setting or greens and woods entice the beautiful bird in?

Put the picture under a tree.
Hide behind the tree.
Don't speak.
Don't move.

And thus he waits. Knowing fully well that it could come quickly, or it could take years. Waiting was the key. It really was because you see a visual of it....the boy under the tree is now an old old man, covered in full by cobwebs, still waiting...

But fortunately for us, the fantasy doesn't stretch that far. For the boy is still a boy, and the bird does come in, and when it does, he quietly closes the cage door with the tip of his brush. Me and Winkie felt a visible tension at this point. The bird is caught???? But that's sad!!

And here is where the original poem won me over. Because the boy now sets to erase all the lines of the cage, being very careful of the bird's feathers!

The sharp contrast of the bird against the now plain white background is startlingly beautiful, holding the full weight of the promise that now lies ahead. A tree takes form, then a branch with a pretty perch for her and the green leaves and the summer breeze....the smell of the sunshine and the flowers, and the songs of the bees and the butterflies. And with a picture so complete, he waits for the bird to sing. Its a long wait but when it ends, you can just hear the music. Heck, the music is bursting from within your own heart! The jubilation, the victory, is immense.

At the end of it all, the painting is back in his room, along with all the music and the happiness inside the picture. When the night draws high and the moon shines brightly and the boy is asleep, the bird flies out of the window once more. But before your spirits can dip, there is a promise....that tomorrow, you can paint another one!

That is the poem and that is the book, in its adaptation. And I have to confess that this review was a very hard one to write. I found myself struggling to share what is just so special and a marvel about it. Do I rave about the concept I just witnessed, of indulging fantasy in such a simple allegorical way. Do I talk about the slight disappointment at the sketch of a cage, only to give way to the acute delight of having it vanish from beneath an eraser, understanding that capturing it was never the intent? I don't think I can get over how majestic that bird looked against the plain canvas, waiting for everything that belonged to it. The tree, that perch of a branch, those perfect leaves, all flowing in such tandem with the nature surrounding, that the picture was the background and the background was in the picture and nothing short of the edges of the canvas could interrupt this flow of inspiration!

The overriding feeling of gentleness that pervaded throughout the book, gentleness and patience. Waiting, waiting, waiting....and giving the bird her space, until she was ready to do what she did sing, and to give the joy of song. And after all that, not a ripple disturbed this ocean of gentleness and patience as the bird escaped into the night once more, because tomorrow, you could always paint another one!

It is hard not to be moved by that.


Some trivia : This original poem by Jacques Prevert, was made into a 15 minute movie in 2007!

And here is an inspired adaptation of the poem, cartoon style! :)


Unknown said...

ohhhh what a lovely story... I am moved just reading the review.
Where can i Buy this from??

sathish said...

Tharini -

" Its a long wait but when it ends, you can just hear the music. Heck, the music is bursting from within your own heart! The jubilation, the victory, is immense."

Amazing words!

It is a delight to discover this book.

Choxbox said...

What a pick T! Wow!

@MM: You were moved by T's review? Welcome to the gang! Always wonder whether the book she has picked is better or the review itself!

Tharini said...

Thanks MM! If you wish to buy it, I think I did see it on flipkart when I googled. But I have a secret feeling our Chox will find it somehow. :)

Thanks Sathish. You guys would love this!

And thank you Chox. You made my day! :)

utbtkids said...

Sounds so wonderful T. I wish I get it in our local library.

wordjunkie said...


Artnavy said...

lovely- need to check out flipkart

Vibha said...

A very engaging review T. Loved the story and the way you gave a glimpse of it.

Anusha said...

That was an amazing review T! I leafed thru this book at the lib and decided it was too soon for my boys but reading your beautiful interpretation makes me want to find it and read it again for myself.

Sheela said...

Amazing pick, T! And even more so thanks to your way with words. I had to read your review a couple of times, just to savor your presentation! And, now, I am very inspired to find this book for myself and see it through your eyes, the way you walked me through this book! I am really glad you took the trouble to ponder/agonize and share this book. Thanks, T!

Playing by the book said...

Wow. Your review is wonderful. It certainly captures for me the delight and awe this book inspired. And it makes me want to get hold of the book as soon as possible!

Tharini said...

Thanks All!

Kodi's Mom : Yes, I guess at Kodi's age, the whole concept is a little of the abstract. A back and fro dialogue throught the reading, helped Winkie enjoy it.

Sheela : Thank you so much! Your words meant a lot! :)

Pbth : I hope you do. And please come back to tell us how it struck you personally.

Related Posts with Thumbnails