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Mural in progress at the Pickering Creek Audubon Sanctuary in Easton, Maryland (photo by Jessica Stewart)

An Italian street artist is retracing the journey of John James Audubon that led to his historic 19th-century tome, Birds of America. With his project The Image Hunter, the Roman muralist Hitnes is exploring the modern ecology of 15 states, observing birds that he will photograph, sketch, and then immortalize in large-scale murals.

“The path to create a mural will be very similar to Audubon’s process,” Hitnes told Hyperallergic. “By going into nature around the US, I’ll have many encounters with the feathered race. I’ll try to see how they move and behave, which will help the interpretation of the drawings and then, the murals, which will be inspired by the species observed in nature.”

Hitnes mural at the Pickering Creek Audubon Sanctuary in Easton, Maryland (photo by Jessica Stewart)

Most of his mural work has involved interpretations of nature, but usually fantastical and drawn from memory. The Image Hunter is more about understanding, as he put it, “what kind of dialogue is still possible with nature.” This week he completed his first Image Hunter murals at the Pickering Creek Audubon Center in Maryland, including one of red-winged blackbirds flying among foliage.

Hitnes painting a mural prior to ‘The Image Hunter’ (courtesy the artist) (click to enlarge)

“Birds give you the impression of being wild, while still being relatable to us as humans,” Hitnes said. “There are so many species and so many behaviors, from raptor birds to hummingbirds, running birds to swimming birds, making it easy for us to identify ourselves within them.”

Through October, Hitnes and filmmaker Giacomo Agnetti, who is capturing footage for a documentary, will travel to states Audubon explored in the 1830s, including Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, and finally New York. There, in New York City, Hitnes will create a mural for the Audubon Mural Project, a collaboration between the National Audubon Society and the Gitler &_____ Gallery to install murals on the steel roll gates of Audubon’s former upper Manhattan neighborhood.

Other visits will focus on Audubon Sanctuaries, which have given permission for murals, and in each state Hitnes will connect with local bird communities. While Audubon painted 435 plates in his huge double folio, all the specimens represented life-size, Hitnes’s murals will make the birds he witnesses monumental.

“When you paint something large-scale, you’re modifying the environment,” Hitnes explained. “This allows the viewer to lose themselves in the work. It’s a power unique to murals, which due to their size, force the viewer to look at them. Audubon worked his whole life in order to bring his work to public eyes, the murals will do that in an immediate way.”

Mural at the Pickering Creek Audubon Sanctuary in Easton, Maryland (photo by Jessica Stewart)

Mural at the Pickering Creek Audubon Sanctuary in Easton, Maryland (photo by Jessica Stewart)

A bird mural (not part of ‘The Image Hunter’) by Hitnes (courtesy the artist)

h/t Audubon

Follow the Image Hunter project at its dedicated site

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Allison Meier

Allison C. Meier is a former staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Oklahoma, she has been covering visual culture and overlooked history for print and online media since 2006. She moonlights...