David studied art under professional artist, Robin Goodwin, with early commissions for the RAF taking him to Aden in 1960, and on to Kenya. This trip changed his life. He was asked to paint his first wildlife subject and at the same time he became a conservationist overnight when he witnessed 255 zebra dead around a waterhole poisoned by poachers.
Since then, David has enjoyed successful one-man shows around the world and has won many awards. He has been the subject of several TV programmes and published five books and over 200 limited edition prints. Recently celebrating his 80th birthday,
David still lives at a frenetic pace, continuing to donate paintings to wildlife through his Foundation, to pay back "my enormous debt of gratitude to the animals I paint".
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 – he never looked back.
It was at this time that he became a conservationist overnight when he found 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. ‘Tiger Fire’ was one of his first major fund-raising successes, raising £127,000 for Operation Tiger in 1973.
In 1984 he established the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation (DSWF) to channel his own conservation efforts to fund vital enforcement and community projects that continue to make a real difference to wildlife survival in their 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 £5 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. TigerTime has attracted celebrity support from Sir Paul McCartney, Ricky Gervais, Stephen Fry and Joanna Lumley, among many, and is campaigning to bring an end to the tiger trade and tiger farms in China.
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.
David is also passionate about steam locomotives, in the past owning two 120-ton main line steam giants and establishing a registered steam railway charity. His beloved Black Prince is now leased to the Gloucestershire & Warwickshire Railway.
His life as an artist and conservationist have 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). His 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 to services to conservation.
David celebrated his 80th birthday in 2011 with a party at the Natural History Museum which raised over £120,000 for wildlife. He now lives with his adored wife Avril in West Sussex and has four daughters and nine grandchildren who share his passion for wildlife conservation and art.
In 2012 David started the year with a retrospective of his work at the Royal Academy West of England in Bristol.
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