Wildlife artist Steve Nayar

Totnes painter Steve Nayar is us­ing his artis­tic tal­ents to raise aware­ness of en­dan­gered species

Devon Life - - Inside - WORDS: Ver­ity Hes­keth

“When I be­gan this se­ries in earnest, the first ques­tion I asked my­self was an un­be­liev­ably hard one. It was this: is it al­ready too late? Is there any point in do­ing th­ese paint­ings? After a lot of re­search, I found that it isn’t too late... But it is al­most too late. We’re at the knife-edge.” Steve Nayar speaks qui­etly, but strongly. “I love work­ing for my­self, but I love my work hav­ing a pur­pose even more.”

We are stand­ing in his stu­dio in Totnes, and many pairs of eyes from Steve’s paint­ings are keep­ing watch over us.

Over the past few years, Steve has de­vel­oped a pas­sion­ate de­sire to con­trib­ute to the en­dan­gered species cause. When pur­chas­ing a Steve Nayar paint­ing, you will be di­rectly sup­port­ing the threat­ened wildlife cause, as Steve do­nates much of his paint­ings’ earn­ings to con­ser­va­tion char­i­ties. His work is a rich com­bi­na­tion of hu­mil­ity and ex­cep­tional in­tri­cacy, ac­cu­rate down to the last eye­lash or tiny wrin­kle around the eyes, giv­ing a fleet­ing im­pres­sion

that th­ese huge, wild crea­tures are close enough to reach out and touch. The ex­act, al­most pho­to­graphic qual­ity of Steve’s work speaks of his many years as a cor­po­rate graph­ics de­signer, but this is where the ten­u­ous con­nec­tion to his old cor­po­rate life ends.

This year, Steve has taken part in the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) gala evening at The Dorch­ester Ho­tel in Lon­don, hav­ing been asked by WWF to ex­hibit his ele­phant paint­ing for grand auc­tion on the red car­pet, which was at­tended by a host of celebri­ties, in­clud­ing the great Sir David At­ten­bor­ough him­self. The paint­ing fo­cuses on a sin­gle ele­phant eye, dove­tail­ing per­fectly with WWF’S cur­rent ad­ver­tis­ing cam­paign that shows poach­ers re­flected in an ele­phant’s eye.

When he’s not paint­ing, Steve lives a stone’s throw from his stu­dio, with his wife Sarah, and, very fit­tingly, their three res­cue dogs and three res­cue cats. Em­pha­sis is not on the an­i­mals as pets that need to learn to obey ev­ery com­mand, but a lit­tle more about them as sen­tient be­ings, which says a lot about Steve’s en­gaged at­ti­tude to work and life.

Steve’s work lit­er­ally sur­rounds him, from the paint ex­trav­a­gantly dot­ted across the keys to his Mac, where he ex­pertly pho­to­shops pic­tures of the an­i­mals in the wild be­fore paint­ing (it’s rare to find many pho­tographs of an­i­mals look­ing straight into the cam­era’s lens), to the first pic­ture of this style he painted. In this first paint­ing, a pair of emer­ald green eyes un­blink­ingly looks out from a much more graphic, sharp im­age than the other paint­ings hung on the walls. “I started with my cat, and then I did a whole se­ries of ‘ win­dows of the soul’ with an­i­mals look­ing straight at you. I be­gan to get fas­ci­nated. Whilst the idea de­vel­oped, I be­gan to seek out in­for­ma­tion about an­i­mals. The cru­elty within var­i­ous in­dus­tries shocked me pro­foundly.

“Then I found the In­ter­na­tional Union for the Con­ser­va­tion of Na­ture (IUCN) Red List. It’s the au­thor­i­ta­tive in­dex of en­dan­gered species on the planet. It blew my mind. Th­ese days, this is my gospel. I go there on­line to re­search, I check out species that are crit­i­cally en­dan­gered, and I be­gin to de­sign, find­ing the right im­ages, pho­to­shop­ping and then paint­ing. The re­search is a big part of the process; when I’m not paint­ing, I’m kept busy talk­ing and net­work­ing with wildlife con­ser­va­tion groups and char­i­ties. I want th­ese an­i­mals to have a voice.

“Paint­ing my pieces takes a long time, weeks usu­ally. I use a process called wet in wet. Fine de­tails such as hairs re­quire the whole can­vas to dry be­fore I can paint in – for oil paints it can some­times take up to a cou­ple of days. I know that I have made a for­mula that’s pow­er­ful, and has a sense of drama that draws peo­ple in.”

Steve metic­u­lously cu­rates his own works, and what’s more, de­signs them to elicit a re­ac­tion; the pur­pose of Steve’s work is not to be for­got­ten, amongst his painterly mas­tery of fur and glit­ter­ing eyes. “On the sec­ond day of the ex­hi­bi­tion, we had to buy a few big boxes of tis­sues. Peo­ple were com­ing in to look at the art and hav­ing very emo­tional re­ac­tions. I didn’t sell much work be­cause peo­ple saw it as an ex­pe­ri­ence, but for the sake of spread­ing aware­ness, it was fan­tas­tic. As hu­mans we have a real thing for dis­so­ci­at­ing our­selves with is­sues that aren’t ‘on our doorstep’. Wars and atroc­i­ties we see around the world we know are ter­ri­ble; we usu­ally have a brief re­ac­tion, but we don’t en­gage with them. There’s a dif­fer­ence be­tween em­pa­thy and com­pas­sion. If you feel em­pa­thetic to­wards some­one, you com­pletely en­gage with them, you show you your un­der­stand­ing – but with com­pas­sion, you do some­thing about it.”

We are used to see­ing an­i­mals seg­re­gated into neat boxes; for the farm­ing in­dus­try, for zoos, and even for art to some ex­tent. “Our pat­tern of daily life has been about tak­ing for a very long time. We per­haps need to con­sider that an­i­mals on this earth are just as im­por­tant and valid as we are. With­out an­i­mals, we lose the planet, we lose bio­di­ver­sity, and we ul­ti­mately lose the ecosys­tem that we rely on to sur­vive.

“I want to be fiercely op­ti­mistic about it. I don’t want to be all doom and gloom. The great thing about to­day’s so­ci­ety is our level of com­mu­ni­ca­tion. I’m try­ing to do what­ever I can to save the planet, as an in­di­vid­ual. As an in­di­vid­ual, I can paint and I can use that to make a dif­fer­ence. If every­body makes lit­tle changes in their lives, then all of those lit­tle changes could bring a big change.”

My eyes are now drawn back in­ex­orably to the paint­ings that still sur­round us. Steve’s paint­ings’ liv­ing qual­i­ties ex­press the full po­ten­tial of paint­ing; the look in eyes of the lion is frag­ile, yet the lights, colours and de­tail within his mane and fea­tures are so life­like that you feel you could reach out to touch the liv­ing soul of him.

And of course, that is ex­actly what a paint­ing should do.

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