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David ShepherdDavid Shepherd
CBE, FRSA David Shepherd
Wildlife ArtDavid Shepherd
 
David Shepherd, CBE is known internationally as one of the world's leading wildlife artists. He is also a passionate conservationist and he freely admits that he owes all his success to the animals he paints.

Prolific in output as a painter of not only wildlife but portraits, landscapes, aviation, military subjects and steam railways, he is also an author and brim full of stories and anecdotes. David says he is an extrovert who enjoys talking and he likes to be known as a natural promoter and an ardent ambassador for conservation - it's the way he is.

David will tell you that he became an artist in his tender years because he couldn't do anything else.

"My life was a total disaster until I was 20 years old. My one and only ambition was to be a gamewarden, so when I'd finished my education, I went rushing out to Kenya with the incredibly arrogant idea that I was God's gift to the National Parks. It was a disaster. I knocked on the door of the Head Gamewarden in Nairobi and said, 'I'm here, can I be a gamewarden?' I was told I wasn't wanted. My life was in ruins; that was the end of my career in three seconds flat.

"Up to that point, my only interest in art had been as an escape jrom the rugger field. The game was compulsory at school and I was terrified of it. I couldn't see anyfun in being buried under heaps of bodies in the mud and having my face kicked in. ljled into the art department where it was more comfortable and painted the most unspeakably awful painting of birds. "

Deflated and homesick, David took a job as a receptionist in a hotel on the Kenya coast; the salary was one pound a week.
"So there I was at Malindi on the Kenya Coast in this hotel I painted some more bird paintings on plasterboard, and I sold seven of them for El 0 each to the culture-starved inhabitants of the town andpaid my passage home to England on a Union Castle steamer. "

Arriving home, penniless, he had two choices, David decided. He could either become an artist or a bus driver. Since he suspected that most artists starved in garrets, life as a bus driver seemed the safer bet.
"But my dad was marvellous. He said that ifl really wanted to be an artist, Id better get some training. The only school we knew anything about was The Slade School of Fine Art in London, so I sent them myfirst birdpainting. "

The Slade, too, turned David down. He had no talent, they said, and he wasn't worth teaching. The bus driver position was looking more likely all the time, except for a chance meeting that changed his life. At a London cocktail party, David Shepherd was introduced to Robin Goodwin. Robin was a professional painter who specialised in portraits and marine subjects. (David considers him to have been one of the finest marine painters of this century). He didn't and wouldn't take students, Robin told him, but he agreed to have a look at David's work.

"The next day, I trotted up to his studio in Chelsea and a miracle happened. I showed him that very first bird picture, which I still have and, for reasons that I have never been able to understand, he decided to take me on. I owe all my success to that man. He is responsible for my being where I am today. "

David believes that the only reason why Robin Goodwin took him on was the challenge. He studied with him for three years, and he proved a demanding taskmaster.

"The veryfirst half-hour I had with him ended in tears. 'First of all' he told me, 'ifyou think that because you're creative you're different from anyone else, and that you can mop your forehead and wear pink trousers and go all Bohemian and only work- when you feel like it, you can shove off. In November when it's so dark that you can't even see your canvas, you're going to be painting for the tax man, the food bills, and the school fees'.

Robin said,
"Throwing paint at the wall and 'expressing yourself' doesn't pay the bills. Artists, like everyone else, have to work- eight hours and more a day, seven days a week to meet their responsibilities. "

"Robin never said anything complimentary about my work- and he knew just how far to push me. Once I stormed out of his studio, determined never to return, but he leaned out of the window and called down to me in the street: 'Don't be such a coward - I'm still teaching you, so you can't be that bad'.

In the years following his training with Robin Goodwin, David began painting aviation pictures. The subject was a natural for him, rooted in his boyhood. He was eight years old when World War II began in 1939 and had lived in London during the Blitz.

" I used to watch the air raids and the 'Battle of Britain' on the way to school. It was so exciting - we didn't realise people were killing each other. "

To paint aviation, David obtained a permit, which gave him access to Heathrow Airport.

"In those days it was a friendly place, not the concrete jungle it is now. I could go almost anywhere I wanted, and Comets, Stratocruisers, Constellations and lovely old planes like that became my subjects. "

Because of his training, David was well suited to painting aircraft because he had been taught to be accurate, while avoiding the pitfalls of making a painting look like a photograph.

Gradually, his paintings began to be noticed. One way to get commissions, he reasoned, was to give paintings to the airlines until they felt obliged to repay him with commissions. The ploy worked; the Chairman of the British Overseas Airways Corporation even held an exhibition of David Shepherd's paintings. Through the airlines, David also met his wife, Avril, who was working as a secretary for Capital Airlines of Washington in England.
"Then, in 1960, the Royal Air Force flew me to Kenya as their guest. When I arrived they said to me, 'we don't want paintings of aircraft, we fly them all day long. Do you do local things like elephants?' And that's how it all started. I hadn't even painted a rabbit before then. "

David charged the Royal Air Force 25 pounds, including the frame, for his very first wildlife painting of a rhino, and the rest is history. His paintings of elephants and wildlife have brought him international fame.

"My career took off, and I've never looked back. "

Something else happened on that same visit, when, in one single dramatic moment, David became a conservationist. He found a waterhole poisoned by poachers, around which were lying 255 dead zebra. He realised then that, through his paintings, which were already in great demand, he could repay his debt to the wildlife that was immediately bringing him such success. Since that day in 1960, he has raised through his own efforts, and latterly together with the members of the David Shepherd Conservation Foundation, more than 3million pounds towards helping to save critically endangered mammals in the wild.

In 1962, David painted an elephant picture called 'Wise Old Elephant', which was produced as an unlimited print by Solomon & Whitehead in England and which fast became a best- seller. That same year, David's first one-man exhibition at London's Tryon Gallery was a sell-out. He and Avril celebrated by buying a 16th century Elizabethan farmhouse in Surrey, where they raised four daughters but they now live in a similar property in West Sussex. Here they have purchased an old 16th century Surrey bam to use as his studio, which has been laboriously taken apart with each piece numbered and then re-erected near the house. The only way to get to it has been to dig an underground tunnel which is an enormous attraction to all.


Unless he's travelling, David now paints "every hour that God gives me," either for conservation or to earn his living.

"I hate painting in silence, so my companions are either Gustav Mahler, Glenn Miller, The Beatles or Count Basie. "

These days a David Shepherd exhibition, whether in England, Africa or the United States, can sell out quickly. He has a permanent backlog of commissioned work and his signed Limited Edition prints can change hands at four or five times their original price.
"I'm the luckiest man alive. "

From these lofty heights, David Shepherd has accomplished enormous good for the wildlife he paints.

Numerous other causes have also benefited from his generosity. In 1977, to "repay my debt" to the Royal Air Force, he painted a picture of a Lancaster bomber at dispersal, titling it 'Winter of '43, Somewhere in England'. He donated 850 prints, all signed and numbered, of this painting to the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund, and the prints raised 96,000 pounds for them.

For the same reasons that David Shepherd likes elephants, he has a passion for steam locomotives.

"I get very excited about anything big. That's why I love steam locomotives as well. They're just like elephants. "

In 1967, following the sell-out of an exhibition of his paintings in New York, David started collecting rather large toys.

"This was the time when Great Britain was throwing away her great and proud steam railway heritage at an indecent speed in a premature rush to dieselise her railway system. I rang up British Rail and bought two locomotives. The big one, "Black Prince " weighs 140 tons - the baby one, "The Green Knight" weighs 137 tons. "

He was appalled at the way almost-new steam engines were being scrapped, and he wanted to save at least part of a bygone age. His first two engines proved only the beginning. David founded The East Somerset Railway at Cranmore in Somerset, a registered charity and fully operational steam railway. In 1975, when HRH Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands did the honours at the opening of The East Somerset Railway, the proceeds raised supported wildlife conservation, in particular David's beloved elephants. He has now left Cranmore because of lack of time, but he still owns 'Black Prince'.

His latest venture is the presentation to him of a 15F Class locomotive even larger than 'Black Prince' by South African Railways as a free gift. Fully restored, if ftmds can be raised, he intends to bring it back to Britain, where it has a future home at the British Empire and Commonwealth Museum in Bristol.


Someone once said that the best thing that ever happened to African wildlife was when David Shepherd failed to become a gamewarden. David sees it in this way:
"The greatest thrill of my life is to be able to repay in fair measure the debt I owe to the animals I paint and which have brought me such success. We all have a debt to pay for our stay here. This is mine. "

In 1969 Collins published a collection of David's wildlife paintings in colour, 'An Artist in Africa', which ran into eight editions and has a foreword by HRH Duke of Edinburgh.

In 1972 the BBC produced David Shepherd's life story 'The Man Who Loves Giants', a 50- minute documentary film, narrated by his friend, the late James Stewart, and which has been shown all over the world. Other documentaries for television have also been made, including 'Last Train to Mulobezi'; this film tells the epic story of the rescue from the Zambezi Sawmills Railway in Zambia of an ancient locomotive and railway coach and their 12,000 mile journey back to Britain. These were presented to David as a gift by His Excellency, Dr Kenneth Kaunda, the then President of Zambia, after David had raised funds with other artists, (through an auction of seven of his paintings in the USA). This enabled him to buy a helicopter, which he presented to the Goveniment of Zambia for anti-poaching work. In 1988 David made the series 'In Search of Wildlife' with Thames TV; a series of six half-hour films, featuring endangered mammals throughout the world. These have subsequently been shown in the United States of America on the Public Broadcasting Channel. Also in 1990 he made the fmt programme in the annual series of 'Naturewatch' with Julian Pettifer; and has been the 'target' for 'This is Your Life'.

In 1976, David Shepherd's autobiography, 'The Man Who Loves Giants', was published and rapidly became a best seller. He revised and updated it in 1989. 'A Brush with Steam' was published in 1984 and in October 1985, 'David Shepherd' The Man and His Paintings' was published, which, for the first time, brought together in a single volume a fully representative selection of his work. In 1992, 'David Shepherd, An Artist in Conservation' was published, which is a stunning collection of the best of David's wildlife art with over 90 colour plates. In October, 1995 his two latest books, 'David Shepherd, My Painting Life' and David Shepherd 'Only One World', were published.

David Shepherd was awarded an Honorary Degree on Fine Arts by the Pratt Institute in New York in 1971 and, in 1973, the Order of the Golden Ark by HRH The Prince of The Netherlands for his services to conservation. He was made a Member of Honour of the World Wide Fund for Nature in 1979 and in the same year received the Order of the British Empire for his services to wildlife conservation. In 1986 David was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and in 1988, President Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia awarded him with the

Order of Distinguished Service. He was made a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society in 1989 and he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Science of Hatfield Polytechnic (now the University of Hertfordshire) in 1990. In 1996, David was made an Officer (Brother) of the Order of St. John. In 2008 he was awarded the CBE for his contribution to conservation. In 2012, David was the first artist to receive the 'True Englishman' Award.

David Shepherd has been called "an artist who seems to stride across continents". In today's scheme of things, he is a larger-than-life figure who is regarded by many people as being the world's leading wildlife painter. He lives life at a dizzying pace, enjoying it to the fullest.

"I want to live to be 150. It will take that long to do everything I want to do. Unlike some people who perhaps lead a humdrum existence, I run almost everywhere I go because I am so anxious to get on with the joy of what I am doing next. "

 
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David Shepherd
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