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, David openly admits, he owes much of 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 therefore 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. In 1984 he established the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation to channel his own conservation efforts to fund vital enforcement and community projects that continue to make a real difference to wildlife survival in its natural habitat. To date, through his tireless and passionate efforts and, thanks to the generosity of the Foundation’s dedicated supporters, including artists from around the world who support DSWF’s ‘Art for Survival’ programme, over £4.9 million has been given away directly in grants to keep key projects in Africa and Asia alive and operational - with an additional £1 million invested in important education and advocacy.
His life as an artist and conservationist has featured in several TV programmes including the BBC’s ‘Man Who Loves Giants’ (1972) and ‘Painting with David Shepherd’ (2004). His awards include an Honorary Degree in 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 in June 2008 he was awarded a CBE for his services to conservation.
David celebrated his 80th birthday in 2011 and marked the occasion with a fundraising dinner at the Natural History Museum on May 6th plus exhibitions of his work at the Mall Galleries in June and a retrospective in the Autumn. Limited edition prints were published to mark the occasion and can still be bought from the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation, the world’s leading authority on David’s work
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