In June this year, one of my paintings titled: ‘To the Point’ of an African pale chanting goshawk, acrylic on canvas was selected for the ‘David Shepherd Wildlife Artist of the Year’ exhibition in London! Needless to say I was delighted not only with being selected but for the opportunity to meet a man I have the greatest admiration for.
‘To the point’ – acrylic on canvas
Many years ago, I was given a second hand book entitled ‘The man who loves giants’, about the life of David Shepherd and his passion for elephants. After reading his book, I was inspired by his life achievements, not only as an artist but for his lifelong dedication to wildlife conservation.
The David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation is a charity organisation that has funded key projects in Africa and Asia to save critically endangered mammals.
David Shepherd is known internationally as an artist and ambassador for wildlife.
“Since time immemorial, one species became extinct every century. Today, one becomes extinct every hour. Wildlife around the world is being decimated by an awesome onslaught of threats ranging from habitat destruction and hunting, to pollution. Another serious threat – wildlife crime – is worth a staggering US$8 billion annually, third only to the illegal trade in drugs and guns. People have slaughtered 98% of the world’s black rhinos… wiped out more than half of Africa’s elephants and three sub-species of tiger have disappeared forever. We need your help today – tomorrow will be too late.” David Shepherd CBE FRSA
So the decision was made to go to London to attend the opening of the the exhibition which is run annually as a fundraiser for the ‘David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation’ attracting entries worldwide. The exhibition ran from the 3rd – 7th June at the Mall Galleries, Mall Street in the heart of London.
The flight to London was a long one but was made so much more enjoyable as I was accompanied by my dear friend Irene. We stayed in Crickelwood not far from London central with a friend. Our bus trip into London everyday passed by the Abbey Road studios made famous by the Beatles album cover.
Our first bus journey into London took us to Oxford Street from where we decided to walk to look for the gallery. Being a country girl by heart having spent my youth on farms I was overcome by the sheer volume of people. I stood mesmerized by the hustle and bustle of inner London.
Entrance to Buckingham Palace where incidentally we saw the Queen!
Great excitement built up over the next few days until the opening night. My first mission was to meet David in person so we headed off early to the gallery only to find that the doors would only open in about another 45 minutes. Waiting was excruciating as I was a bundle of nervous energy, like a cat on a hot tin roof. We decided to wait, sitting on the step of a nearby statue and directly in our line of vision, was none other than Buckingham Palace in the distance! I wanted to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.
Entrance to the Mall Galleries on opening night
Finally the doors opened and I immediately set off to hunt down Mr Shepherd! He was engaged in conversation with another artist I presumed, so I stood a comfortable distance and waited. The artist finally walked away and I swooped in. What a thrill it was to stand now face to face with David talking art and conservation. He inquired where my painting was hanging and suggested we go and look at it together. I thought my knees were going to buckle.
David Shepherd with Paula
There we stood looking up at my painting as he told me what he thought about it and the techniques & style I had used, it was all surreal. Undoubtedly one of the most famous wildlife artists standing looking and critiquing my work! He was most complementary a true gentleman, a warm and down to earth man, so approachable. I finally released him to the next eager artist wanting to get a peace of him. But I was satisfied that I had now definitely achieved a great big tick on my bucket list! What a thrill.
More than 450 artists, friends and invited guests attended the opening night and the air was electric. I met a couple of fellow artists from Paris as we feasted our eyes on all the wonderful art from all over the world. It was thrilling, exhilarating and inspiring.
Opening night at the Mall Galleries
During the week of the exhibition I managed to meet with David again and this time we sat chatting as he signed one of his prints that I had purchased. A moment in time that will stay with me for ever, a gift. I even stole a kiss of which he quipped “That should bode well for British – Australian relations.”
How many times in our lives do we get to have the living experience of meeting someone who has inspired our career path? A true blessing.
David Shepherd – signing my print
I even had a few visitors of my own to the exhibition, friends from Scotland, a few relatives who made an incredible effort to get to the gallery as well as friends from London. All of whom contributed to making this an incredibly memorable and cherished experience.
There was also the added bonus of seeing artist Hazel Soans in action, demonstrating at the gallery during the exhibition. What a thrill to see such an accomplished artist at work. A master at her craft. My dear cousin Joan very generously purchased one of Hazels books as a gift to me, which the artist signed.
Hazel Soans with Paula (see if you can spot my painting in the background)
After the completion of the exhibition we visited as many galleries as possible. The London National Gallery twice, the Portrait Gallery, Tait Britain and more.
We also visited the London Zoo spending a wonderful day expploring, the sun was shinning and the animals were abundant and right at the end we got to see the gorillas!
Squirrel spotted in one of the parks
We then set off to Swansea, Wales to visit friends for a few days. A beautiful part of the world steeped in history. It is here that I got to see my very first ancient castle, only 700 years old! Not that old according to the locals.
Castle in Swansea – Wales
Baby barn owl squatting in the shade of my friend
After Wales it was off to the Kent region to visit family, where I got to see the meridian stone, another castle, some very quaint village towns, a Henry Moore sculpture and many more incredible artworks.
The Guitar Player – Vermeer
(I was blown away by the vivid colours and wonderful light in this painting which was a lot smaller than I expected it to be)
The last five days of this amazing holiday was spent in Paris, my first visit and what an experience. A feast for the senses and yes I did see the Mona Lisa! How could I not and it was thrilling even though I had to fight through a wall of other sightseers. It impossible to absorb it all. I will just have to do it all again!
Such a feast for the eyes
Approaching the Eiffel Tower for the very first time
Mona Lisa – The cherry on the top
I only hope that during my lifetime I can in some way make a contribution to saving especially the wildlife of our planet. How insignificant I feel in the greater scheme of things. Yet I will strive towards change that is so desperately needed in the mindset of man to saving our planet from our own destruction.