Daniel Handal, Pajaritos @ClampArt

JTF (just the facts): A total of 18 color photographs, framed in painted frames and unmatted, and hung against white walls in the back gallery space. All of the works are archival pigment prints, made in 2016 and 2017. Each of the prints is sized 19×15 inches and is available in an edition of 3+2AP. (Installation shots below.)

Comments/Context: Daniel Handal’s exuberant portraits of exotic birds function on two distinct levels.

Most obviously, they are carefully made photographs of tiny birds that highlight the colorful variation found in their feathers, beaks, and overall appearance. Using a portable studio, Handal traveled to the homes of exotic bird keepers in and around New York city, placing each bird on a small wooden perch against a pastel colored background meticulously chosen to match the coloring of the subject.

And while there is of course some natural history interest to be found in examining and photographing these rare birds with such attention, Handal’s portraits aren’t scientific close ups designed to document the details of the different species. They deliberately step back a bit, setting the small birds against expanses of color that are both intimate and surprisingly spacious. The in-between scale of the images reinforces the sense that these birds are indeed quite small and vulnerable, and yet, the expanses of color that surround them give them an almost anthropomorphized sense of pride and confidence – these birds have fabulous plumage and special individual markings to show off (and in some cases, faces that seem to have expressions), and show them off they will, even if they are in some degree of uncertainty and potential peril.

And while these photographs function quite well as decorative items, it is their conceptual backstory that gives them their punch. In everyday Spanish, the word for bird is el pájaro (or el pájarito in the diminutive form), but in the slang of the streets, these words are derogatory names for gay men. Handal grew up in Honduras, where his sexuality didn’t exactly fit with the prevailing machismo of Hispanic culture, and so he struggled to express himself within the constraints and prejudices of that environment.

So when seen through the lens of gender and sexuality, Handal’s colorful pájaritos take on an entirely different resonance. His rainbow of vibrant pastels not only disregards the blue/pink duality usually applied to boys and girls and their gender roles, it celebrates diversity and individuality with zest and energy. With just a small transformation of perspective, the birds become symbols of quietly defiant personal definition, of seeing the beauty in being who you are regardless of how you might look.

There is an elegance to the simplicity of this smart project that makes the images easy to appreciate. Instead of examining each bird with the intention of identifying its oddities and eccentricities, Handal treats each “sitter” with respect, working hard to find the color setting that best supports its uniqueness. The result is a parade of tenderly attentive portraits that bring effervescence to this small gallery space. Each one is a moment of dangerously showing the world your true colors, and declaring with joy and confidence (and some trepidation) how amazing that feels.

Collector’s POV: The prints in this show are priced between $2000 and $3000, based on the place in the edition. Handal’s work has little secondary market history at this point, so gallery retail likely remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.

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JTF (just the facts): Self-published in 2023 (here). Hardcover, 285 x 235 mm, 112 pages, with 55 black-and-white reproductions. Includes a short afterword by the artist and a list of ... Read on.

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