His seminal work, Birds of America was published between 1827 and 1838. In it, he painted, catalogued and defined bird species. John James Audubon, the celebrated 19th-century artist was an ornithologist and naturalist who founded the Audubon Society, a non-profit that forged new grounds in aviary conservation. While Millennials might not know that much about his accomplishments, there's one New Yorker who is intent about keeping his legacy up close and personal throughout the streets of Manhattan.
Avi Gitler, a local art gallery owner and his crew of graffiti artists — which the New York Times euphemistically describe as “artful spray-painters” — are meticulously replicating Audubon’s work on public edifices. For clarification, these artists are spray-painting professionals, who are paid modest fees — which elevates them somewhat above graffiti vandals.
Their giant-scaled paintings of endangered birds are soaring all over the neighborhood.
Their iconic recreations are colorful representations of Audubon's life-long work. They are multistory murals on apartment building, alleyways and storekeepers’ security gates.
“There’s something beautiful about this fish crow perched where Audubon breathed his last,” said Mr. Gitler of a gorgeously alert bird glaring four stories high above a gas station on West 155th Street that now occupies part of the old Audubon estate.
21st Century Climate Change
Conservation has evolved in our current century. Due to Gitler's initiative, Audubon's focus on saving our birds get a fresh new look at an age-old problem — namely climate change.
In the next few months, provided “there are enough roll-down gates, barren walls and willing property owners, this spray-painted menagerie will help the Audubon Society’s campaign to raise awareness of birds that are threatened by climate change while turning the West 140s and 150s into a painted aviary,” notes NY Times columnist Matt A.V. Chaban.
Working closely with the National Audubon Society, Gitler counts 80 bird paintings already in place out of 314 birds the society lists as threatened by climate change.
David Yarnold, Audubon’s president and CEO, warns that “as the voice of birds, Audubon [spoke] for the 314 species that are at risk because of climate change. Birds have always been nature’s messengers and they’re already telling us that we need to be acting with urgency."
Gitler and his artful dodgers are helping to not only resurrect Audubon’s legacy, they are also revitalizing the need for the government both locally and globally to address the pressing issues of climate change that are affecting our planet. Due to this selfless initiative, now more residents and tourists have cause to appreciate not only the art of Audubon, but also his original intent to save our birds.
Primary Source: Audubon's Work in NYC