Art can be an amazing thing: it can inspire emotion and ignite passion in any viewer. Late in 2018, Innova Art heard of an inspirational project underway from an artist who aims to change the way young people view the conservation of endangered species, environments and cultures around the world. Curious to find out more, eInnovation News had a conversation with John Dyer, founder of Last Chance to Paint.
eInnovation News: What inspired the Last Chance to Paint project?
John Dyer: In 2015 I worked on a ground breaking painting project with Amazon Indian Nixiwaka Yawanawá ’Spirit of the Rainforest’ and this type of cultural and global exploration through painting is something that I believe has huge potential. Whilst putting together my new book ‘Painting the Colours of the World’ with the author Kate Dinn and Alan Titchmarsh, who wrote the foreword, it became obvious that the last chapter had to be forward looking – new projects and that it should build on my global painting experiences and ’Spirit of the Rainforest’
I always have so many projects in my mind, so once I started to consider these it seemed logical to bracket them into one large project with a series of ‘chapters’. I was inspired many years ago by the work of Douglas Adams (1952 – 2001) who wrote The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. Douglas also travelled with WWF zoologist Mark Carwardine and wrote a book ‘Last Chance to See’. I approached Mark, who agreed that ‘Last Chance to Paint’ was a great idea for the last chapter of my new book and the project has grown from that point.
My work is studied at schools across the UK and beyond and ‘Last Chance to Paint’ will provide a vehicle to really engage children in endangered environments and art at the same time. There are so many places and subjects we could focus on for this and it’s very exciting.
Have you always had an interest in the conservation of global cultures, environments and species?
I have always been very connected to the environment and in 1989, as a student, Thames TV awarded me a travelling art bursary to travel to the Amazon rainforest in Brazil. I went as a photographer taking fine art images of the remaining natural beauty but returned as a painter. I have painted ever since. During the planning of that first expedition to the Amazon I met Robin Hanbury-Tenison the then president of the Royal Geographical Society in London. Robin made me a Fellow of the RGS and also introduced me to his charity Survival International who campaign for the rights of tribal people. It was at that point that my interest in global culture was ignited.
In 2001 I was appointed as the artist in residence for the Eden Project and that fuelled my desire to travel, learn, teach, record in paint and to celebrate the world. I have now worked as the artist in residence for government organisations in Costa Rica, the Philippines and Peru and even get to be the artist in residence for the wine company Banrock Station in Australia painting their wetland conservation work.
How do you meet the schools that are involved in the project, do you approach them or do they approach you?
We will be emailing many schools across the country to ask for their support and to invite them to ’travel’ with me. We are also hoping that many schools will visit the Last Chance to Paint project website and naturally pledge their support and will start to engage with the project. The Eden Project and Survival International will also be reaching out once the first projects are ready to go live to engage schools, families and supporters.
The Last Chance to Paint website includes an online gallery of the work that young people have created as part of the project. Do you have any plans to show these collections in print or as originals as part of an offline exhibition?
For the ’Spirit of the Rainforest’ project that I ran in 2015/16 with the Eden Project and Survival International we selected the best 300 pieces of art from the children out of the 1048 that we received and printed them out to be exhibited in the rainforest biome of the Eden Project. The resulting exhibition looked amazing. The art, based on the rainforest and tribal culture, intertwined amongst the rainforest plants was really special. We are very much hoping to repeat this type of exhibition once the projects are underway.
Alongside Last Chance to Paint, you are and have been an artist in residence for a wide range of organisations and events. Which one of these projects stands out most in your memory?
That is a tricky one to answer as I have done so many. Spending a week with Kim Wilde in her garden and home was fabulous and Alan Titchmarsh is now a great friend after I painted the BBC Gardeners’ World garden for a week. Australia was extraordinary, the Philippines was crazy and painting in Peru, especially at lake Titicaca for the United Nations year of the potato was incredible – to witness the biodiversity and culture of this part of the world was breathtaking. I think a real highlight was closer to home when I was appointed as the artist in residence for the official ‘Darwin 200’ celebrations and I was sent to the zoo. Working in the animal enclosures and being allowed to take my daughter with me was extraordinary. Rather than peering in over a fence at the animals we were able to sit and paint amongst them, having lemurs feeding from my hand, sitting on my lap, putting their fingers in my paints and making hand prints in the paintings was beautiful. It really makes a bond when you spend time in a situation like this and create something based on your experience.
Have you got any advice for other artists seeking an artist in residence position?
Yes – don’t wait to be asked and don’t wait to apply for a residency. Invent your own – own the idea and then find the partner to work with, otherwise you might never be an artist in residence. If you can see an opportunity where art can communicate, inspire and add to a subject, make the approach. My residencies have been a mix of people asking me and others I have created by talking to organisations.
If Last Chance to Paint could change just one thing about the world, what would it be?
To build love between people and the natural world.
How can people get involved with Last Chance to Paint?
They should visit www.lastchancetopaint.com and watch our main video, read the ideas and then sign up their email on the site so that we can keep them posted as the project develops, attracts funding and then goes live. The first chapter is planned for June 2019. Hopefully they will also consider telling their schools about the project as the more schools that pledge their support and interest the better… We can achieve more with more support.