FROM Royal portraits to gracing the walls of Del Boy's flat in Only Fools and Horses, artist David Shepherd has transcended barriers to become an artist known by everyone, whether you are an art connoisseur or someone who just likes a nice picture. It is almost certain that most people will know the work of the renowned wildlife artist and conservationist, whether it is simply to recognise his 'Wise Old Elephant' portrait that was proudly displayed in the Trotter's home in the famous sitcom.
However, David Shepherd, CBE, is so much more than one famous print. From working with Royalty to raising over £5 million through the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation, he has a long and varied career.
The artist, who recently celebrated his 80th birthday, was keen to share memories of his career and of his previous visit to Northern Ireland when he stayed in the area last weekend. David spent time in Lisburn with local couple Derek and Victoria Gallop, when he was invited to be the guest of honour in Hillsborough Castle at a lunch to mark the Duke of Edinburgh's 90th birthday.
Whilst he was here David, who is also known for his paintings of railways and aircraft, took time to launch his new book, The David Shepherd Archive Collection, in the James Wray Gallery, Belfast last Saturday. The exquisite large format book is stitched and hand-bound in English vellum and leather and has been published to celebrate David's 80th Birthday in April. The collection, which is strictly limited to 1,000 copies each numbered and signed by David, will see money from each sale donated to the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation.
David's visit brought back memories of his previous stay in Northern Ireland. Speaking at his book launch he said: "I was here forty years ago painting the army. People said to me, 'Why have you come here?' I just said, 'Why not? It's no different than Stoke-on-Trent or somewhere' and they would say, 'Yes, except we're busy killing each other'. I think the humour here is wonderful. I always think that when you fly somewhere you are going abroad, but I think the British here are more patriotic than we are across the pond." David said his visit to Hillsborough Castle to celebrate Prince Philip's 90th birthday was "marvellous", adding: "I think I've had more to drink in the past two days than I have in years!"
Reminiscing about his career David said: "I bought a pair of painting trousers at a market, I could have gone to Harrods and paid a fortune, but I bought them at a market 30 years ago, and as I paint I wipe my brush on my right leg. I remember painting a portrait of the Queen Mother at Clarence House and she looked at me and said, 'That's an interesting colour combination you've got.' I still use those trousers and they are so stiff from paint they all but stand up on their own."
He continued: "I remember when I was caught out by Michael Aspel for This is Your Life. It was filmed in front of a live audience and went through my entire life, and at the end as people were leaving this old lady walked out saying, 'You know, I love this show but I still have no idea who he is 'I have no idea what she was doing throughout the show, she must have been knitting."
David, who said he had been taught not to have a favourite painting, said he was also told that no painting was worthless and to never give up on it. However, he said there was one painting which defeated him - almost. He said: "I was painting a Lion with two Lionesses either side and I just couldn't get it. It wasn't really the male Lion, but the two Lionesses that I just couldn't get right, so I put it away in the attic. I had a visitor over from America who asked if I had any paintings they could buy and I didn't, but I suddenly remembered this painting of the Lion, so I went and got it, cut the Lion out of the middle of the canvas, rolled it up and he was incredibly happy. So if anyone wants a painting of two Lionesses with a big hole in the middle they are very welcome!"
David is very passionate about his conservation work, having even begun an 80th birthday appeal this year as he reached his own milestone. Speaking about the work of the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation he said: "It really is critical, in two years we may have no Tigers. People say, 'You like Tigers more than children', but that is not the case. Think about the future, this affects us all. What will our children have in their future?"
David's organisation have recently purchased land where the Black Rhino is now free to roam for the first time in thirty years. One animal, however, remains close to his heart. "Every time I see an Elephant it is like seeing one for the first time," he said. It seems that David is still very much appreciative of that 'Wise Old Elephant'.David Shepherd, CBE, FRSA, FRGS, OBE.
Explaining that he became an artist in childhood 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 game warden?' 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 from the rugger field. The game was compulsory at school and I was terrified of it. I couldn't see any fun in being buried under heaps of bodies in the mud and having my face kicked in. I fled into the art department where it was more comfortable and painted the most unspeakably awful painting of birds."
Deflated and homesick, he 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 £10 each to the
culture-starved inhabitants of the town and paid my passage home to England on a Union Castle steamer."
Arriving home, penniless, he had two choices,Mr Shepherd 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 and said that if I really wanted to be an artist, I'd better get some training. The only school we knew anything about was The Slade School of Fine Art in London, so I sent them my first bird painting." The Slade, too, turned him 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 my life'. At a London cocktail party, the young artist was introduced to Robin Goodwin. Robin was a professional painter who specialised in portraits and marine subjects. (considered 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 the work.
"The next day, I trotted up to the 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."
In October, 1995 , 'My Painting Life' and 'Only One World' were published and in 2004 his latest book, 'Painting with David Shepherd, His Unique Studio Secrets Revealed' was published.
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 as a gift by His Excellency, Dr Kenneth Kaunda, the then President of Zambia, after raising funds with other artists, (through an auction of seven paintings in the USA). This enabled him to buy a helicopter, which he presented to the Government of Zambia for anti-poaching work.
In 1988 he 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 first programme in the annual series of 'Naturewatch' with Julian Pettifer; and has been the 'target' for 'This is Your Life'.
"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."
Mr Shepherd celebrated his 70th birthday on 25th April 2001 with a fundraising dinner at the Natural History Museum
which made over £100,000 for wildlife projects.
His 80th birthday in 2011 was held at the same venue, and proved to be an exciting and fascinating evening with many celebrities achieving record amounts for the protection of endangered animals and world conservation.
David Shepherd lives with his wife Avril in Sussex. His four daughters all share his passion for conservation and are involved in the work of various wildlife projects throughout the world.
If you would like to visit the studio in Nottinghamshire, (Saturdays and Sundays are fine too) Please call 01623 799 309 We have a collection of over 500 David Shepherd signed limited edition prints and original paintings for sale. A viewing can also be arranged at your home.