Walter Buller Blind is a cynical word play on both the medium used, canvas ‘blinds’ (as if torn from a birdwatchers blind used in the field of observation), and the blindness of Buller’s folly, his inability to see his own cruelty and the far reaching consequences of his grim trophy hunting. It depicts three separate stages, -like a film zooming in on its subject—in this case, Buller’s unwitting prey, who exist in an indeterminate space. In the first panel, the diagonal sequence of birds stare into the distance, in the second they are getting closer and are on the move, while the third depicts a unit of watching and waiting birds reminiscent of the composition of Waiting for Buller,showing birds poised on precipices or scanning the horizon. Viewers can relate to the work as either the observed or observer.
The raggedy canvas edges and sepia tones lend the work a melancholy aura, offset by a typically ‘Hammondian’ sense of humour and characterization of the figures. Here, tribal birds are sartorially hip; theleader in his modern day plumage, a red Adidas tracksuit, while his partner is attired in a fern embellished dress with wishful transparent wings, anticipating Hammond’s later celestial bird figures of the 2000s. Interestingly, these print dresses acknowledge the artist’s mother and aunts, who wore fern-patterned dresses in the 1950s. In his words, ”the paintings started with the clothing, the dresses with ferns on them. On top of the dress, I wanted to put a passive head, a head that did not show any human qualities, any personality.”² This quiet passiveness, though, only adds to their air of dignity, and creates a sense of empathy for the birds, who seem to sense an oncoming encounter with the inevitable.
Throughout the evolution of Hammond’s signature Buller paintings, and enduring into his later works of complexity and decadence, a pervading sense of unease at the passing of time remains evident. As befitting an artist who likes a “good story,” Walter Buller Blind epitomises the imagery and symbolism of this creative period, combining the visual paradox of flat perspective and infinite space in the same picture plane with the subject matter of maligned and elegant birds, unable to fly to safety. It is a testament to the provenance of these works that the three panels, each canvas being signed and dated individually, have remained together. Read together, as they should be, this sequence of paintings creates a unique whole and contributes to the greater unfolding of W. D. Hammond’s extraordinary oeuvre.