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.
For me the fate of our birds should serve as a reminder of where we are headed as a race on this planet, are we really doing enough to stop more species slipping away? What do we view as valuable and important?
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.
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. Much of the conservation budget is funneled into tourism related activities, such as maintaining walking tracks and huts. In my opinion, it is going to take a major mindset change from the New Zealand public and government to see our native species as a high priority.
My newer works are created using Rotoring radiograph pens to achieve a high level of detail and bold lines. The colour medium is mainly Polychromos pencils and sometimes gouache paint to get a solid monochromatic effect. In my early artworks, I would try to select just one colour that would best fit the subject of the artwork and compliment the contrasting black lines of the ink and pencil. I took a lot of inspiration from the artwork of the First Nation Haida people of western Canada.
The other part of my day to day life is roasting coffee. My small company in Whakatane is specialized in Organic fair-trade beans, mostly imported from Central America. I have been applying some of my art background and philosophy into this new venture, designing labels and logos, and helping where I can with local conservation. Whakatane is one of the only places in the world where North Island Brown Kiwi are living so close to an urban environment thanks to the hard work of volunteers and community groups, so our company Apteryx (named after the Latin genus name for kiwi) has sponsored a leg-transmitter and purchased predator traps to protect our sponsored kiwi bird; ’Te Kooti’.
Here is a link to my coffee facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Apteryx-Coffee-Roasters-858514284271117/
And my artist facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/samclarkartist/