I grew up on a farm to the west of Taihape, New Zealand. There was a large garden surrounding our home and there were always Bellbirds and Tui in the wattle trees and kereru in the tree Lucerne. I was brought up surrounded by nature, and my life has been shaped by it as a result.
Birds were the dominant creatures in my country before humans arrived. All the niches filled by mammals in other parts of the world were filled by birds of all shapes and sizes, from the tiny wrens, to the towering Moa, and the fearsome Haast eagles that hunted them. The diversity of bird species I saw in the gardens and forests is now just a shadow of what once was. The rich diversity of species was devastated by humans and the mammals they introduced, with 45 species falling to extinction in just a few short centuries.
The skeletal, ethereal look of my artworks is an acknowledgement of this, and symbolism associated with Tangata O Whenua (the first people to inhabit New Zealand) shows how important the birds once were to humans. Not only were they a source of food, but a basis for a spiritual narrative, with many of the birds of New Zealand playing roles in the creation stories and Lore of the Tangata O Whenua people.
Art and nature came together for me when I was living on a bison ranch in Alberta Canada. Richard, the man who owned the farm, became a great mentor to me. He knew all the names of the birds that would frequent the ranch in the summer months, or pass through in the great migrations. This re- kindled my passion for the natural world, and I began drawing stylized birds in pencil, taking some inspiration from the artwork of the First Nation Haida people of western Canada, who have for centuries created beautiful stylised animals and birds with simple lines and colour in totem poles and masks.
When I returned to New Zealand I was determined to find some of the rarest birds which are now mostly confined to offshore predator-free islands. The Saddleback was one of the highlights, a relative of the beautiful Huia, which were hunted to extinction for their tail feathers and last seen in 1907. This trip resulted in a series of artworks that have been progressing and growing in detail and complexity ever since. My artwork caught the attention of some employees of the Department of conservation, I traded some design work for exclusive access to the rare Kokako birds in the Te Urewera mountains and the endangered Black Stilts which inhabit the Mackenzie Basin in the central South Island. It became clear to me that these vulnerable bird species, some on the brink of extinction, are at the mercy of the political agenda of the day. Many of the groups trying to save these birds are severely under-funded and are reliant on volunteer work and the charity of the local people.
In 2012 I completed a bachelor of Fine Art with honours at Massey University Wellington, where I learned many techniques, met many like minded people and perhaps most importantly, learned how to think critically from an artistic perspective.
Many of my early works were created using Rotoring radiograph pens to achieve clean detail and bold lines. I would try to select just one colour (often using Polychromos pencils) that would best fit the subject of the artwork and compliment the contrasting black lines of the ink. I have more recently been using watercolour and gouache paint to compliment the black line work and also use digital techniques to re-master some of my hand drawn works. I find this is a way to enhance and develop my ideas and enable a level of fine detail that I was finding impossible with conventional pen on paper.
I am currently Living in the sunny Bay of plenty town of Whakatane, I am blessed to be surrounded by nature once again, and have access to a magical 3 acre covenant native bush block filled with old growth Puriri, Tawa and Nikau that I enjoy wandering through and taking care of. Hopefully one day the trapping efforts will result in a return of kiwi and other native wildlife. I have close ties with the Whakatane kiwi trust and Halo conservation groups, and have donated logo and teeshirt designs to them.
My artist facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/samclarkartist/