For most of his career, Australian-born watercolorist Robin Hill has been known as a bird artist, and it's a label that he doesn't mind.
As long as the emphasis is on artist.
The Morris Museum of Art will present an exhibition of the wildlife artist's bird paintings from its permanent collection through April 14. They range in subject matter from frolicking ducks diving beneath the surface of a green pond to dramatic birds of prey, their talons extended and reaching fordinner. Mr. Hill, who moved to the Washington, D.C., area in 1971 and painted birds almost exclusively until the early 1990s, said he hadn't planned on becoming a wildlife painter.
"I was trained as a very general artist, and the bird business was almost an afterthought," he said in a recent telephone interview. "I was always a keen bird watcher and painted birds for my own pleasure. But the bird paintings began attracting a lot of attention. That's when I decided that was what I should be doing."
Mr. Hill confessed that he is not much of a fan of wildlife painting and has always tried to transcend the genre with his work. His paintings are as much about line, color, shape and form as they are about accurate representation of his subjects.
"My whole brief to myself is to paint a beautiful picture that just happens to be a wildlife setting," he said. "I want to do work that is rooted in art history. There are rules, almost, that need to be followed. There are these European artistic ideals that I try to be a part of."
Mr. Hill leaves backgrounds blank and lets the foreground action tell the story. He also uses bold, opaque colors not often associated with watercolors.
"I don't really put the birds in landscapes," he said. "Landscape seems to be something that slipped through my net, but I never really wanted to do that whole Edwardian landscape bird thing. I thought the people who had done that had done it beautifully and that I would do something different."
His natural subject matter and interest in line and the interactions between positive and negative space are similar to traditional Chinese and Japanese forms. "It's not a conscious thing," he said. "It's true that I am interested in the Oriental frames of composition and space, but I'm not trying to re-create that. I think what happens is that I'm trying to solve the same problems as those artists, and a similarity arises from that."
Over the past decade, Mr. Hill has branched off from his bird paintings and begun to work in other forms and mediums, such as oils.
"I began to get restless with the birds," he said. "I still love it, but there was something in me that wanted to do more. So I started doing oil paintings of industrial sites. I've also started doing a lot of portraits. It gives me other avenues to improve myself, and that's important. As an artist I need to improve all the time."
WHAT: Robin Hill's Birds
WHEN: Today through April 14
WHERE: The Morris Museum of Art, 1 10th St.
ADMISSION: $3 adults, $2 students and seniors (65 and older), no charge museum members and children 6 and younger with adult visitors other days. Admission free on Sunday.
Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or email@example.com