David Shepherd CBE FRSA – British wildlife artist and conservationist
As a small boy, David had only one ambition, to be a game warden. So after leaving school in 1949, he went to Kenya to follow his dream, only to be politely told that he was not wanted! Returning home with his dream in tatters, he faced two choices: ‘to drive buses or starve as an artist’.
Rejected by the Slade School of Fine Art as having ‘no talent whatsoever’, it was by good fortune that he met Robin Goodwin, a professional artist, who took him under his wing, teaching him for three years, and to whom he owes his success.
David started his career as an aviation artist and owes a great deal to the Services who commissioned paintings that took him all over the world. The RAF flew him from Mukulla in Aden to Kenya in 1960, which proved a turning point in his career when they commissioned his very first wildlife painting – a rhino on a runway – he never looked back.
It was at this time that he became a conservationist overnight when he came across 255 dead zebra at a poisoned waterhole in Tanzania. Throughout his career he has tried to do all he can to repay the enormous debt he feels he owes to the elephants, tigers and other animals that have given him so much success as an artist. ‘Tiger Fire’ was one of his first major fund-raising successes, raising £127,000 for Indira Gandhi’s Operation Tiger in 1973.
In 1984 he established the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation (DSWF) to channel his own conservation efforts and to fund vital enforcement and community projects that continue to make a real difference to wildlife survival. To date, through his tireless efforts, and thanks to the generosity of the Foundation’s dedicated supporters, including artists from around the world, over £7 million has been given away directly in grants to keep key projects in Africa and Asia alive and operational.
In 2011, during his 80th birthday year, David launched a new campaign to save the tiger in the wild. The social media based ‘TigerTime’ has attracted celebrity support from Sir Paul McCartney, Ricky Gervais, Stephen Fry and Joanna Lumley, among many, and campaigns to bring an end to the trade in tigers while raising additional funds and awareness for DSWF’s tiger conservation work. To discover more and be part of it see www.tigertime.info
As well as his wildlife and landscape paintings, David is perhaps lesser known for his portraits, which include Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, HE Sheikh Zayed of Abu Dhabi and perhaps the most significant, his vast portrayal of ‘Christ on the Battlefield’ which hangs behind the alter in a military garrison church.
His life as an artist and conservationist has featured in several TV programmes including the BBC’s ‘Man Who Loves Giants’ (1972) and ‘Last Train to Mulobezi’ (1974), Harleck’s ‘Elephants and Engines’ (1974), ‘In Search of Wildlife’ series for Thames (1988), ‘Naturewatch’ for Central TV (1990), and ‘This is Your Life’ (1990). His books include ‘An Artist in Africa’ (1967), ‘The Man Who Loves Giants’ (1975), ‘A Brush with Steam’ (1983), ‘David Shepherd, The Man and His Paintings’ (1985), ‘David Shepherd, An Artist in Conservation’ (1992), ‘David Shepherd, My Painting Life’ and ‘Only One World’ (1995) and ‘Painting with David Shepherd’ (2004).
David’s many awards include an Honorary Degree on Fine Arts by the Pratt Institute in New York (1971), the Order of the Golden Ark by HRH The Prince of The Netherlands (1973), Member of Honour of WWF and OBE (1979), FRSA (1986), Order of Distinguished Service, Zambia (1988), and June 2008 the CBE for services to conservation.
In 2012 David started the year with a retrospective of his work at the Royal Academy West of England in Bristol and on April 23rd was the first artist to be presented with the ‘True Englishman’ award by the St George’s day club. His Foundation was also recognised with the Best Conservation Award at the Burgess Wetnose Animal Awards.
In 2016, in recognition of his outstanding contribution to wildlife conservation, David was awarded the Lifetime Achievement award at the Daily Mirror’s Animal Hero Awards, in association with the RSPCA.
At 85, David no longer accepts commissions but still paints every day. He continues to make personal appearances and donates his work to support his Foundation. His wish would be to have many more Christmases so that he could do all the things he still wants to do as an artist and conservationist.