The Bird Within Me – review

Written and Illustrated by Sara Lundberg

Published by Book Island ISBN 978-1-911496-15-1

Reviewed by Karl Andy Foster


Who gets to decide the fate of a young girl in a pale blue dress with a pale blue clay bird model in her hands?

This hardback book cover shows a figure sitting in a tree in full leaf. The colours are burnished in saturated greens with a pop of blue. This pale blue is Berta’s dress, and this colour is central to the narrative. Berta is day-dreaming the dream of someone afflicted by creativity. The image is expressively handled in a loose but generous painting style.

Writer and Artist Sara Lundberg’s story takes place on a farm in the spare landscape of rural Sweden in the 1920’s and is inspired by the paintings, letters and diaries of the artist Berta Hansson. It begins when Berta is young and standing at a crossroads in her life. Our hero has to decide whether to stay or go. This is a tale about family loyalties and the conflicts inherent in the inevitable break with tradition when we wish to assert our independence.

Berta forms birds from pale blue clay that she finds in a gully near her home. This clay and the gallery of works in her mother’s bedroom are laden with symbolism. The whole story is subtle and beautiful with formal compositions and artwork of controlled brushstrokes. Trees are sensitively handled as if they are a chorus watching over the events and vital spaces where Berta finds the room “to be” and for creativity to find her. Lundberg paintings are imbued with a rich melancholy that evokes a time that is frozen in aspic and reminds me of the monumental work of my former tutors, Alan Young and Charles Shearer. It’s as if she has seen their work and created a fabulous hybrid. There is also a quietude in some of the scenes that are reminiscent of the more pared back paintings by Leonora Carrington.

It is often said that an artist begins their journey to maturity when they have to deal with loss and personal trauma, and Berta’s mother’s illness is the catalyst here. In addition, a vision seen through the doctor’s window (if you can see it, you can be it) and the doctor’s advice (someone has to give you permission to try) are pivotal in the future direction of Berta’s life.

There is an Afterword by Alexandra Sundqvist, the cultural journalist, that delves into the real-life biography of the artist Berta Hansson. This was good to see as it features photographs and examples of her artworks which adds more validity to the story. Reflecting on this further I was left haunted by an old popular song:

Que sera sera
Whatever will be will be
The future’s not ours to see
Que sera sera
What will be will be
Que sera sera

21st July 2020

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