Eleanor Bonsor gets inside the head of the world-renowned wildlife artist and conservationist, John Banovich
What do you aim to convey through your art?
My work is about creating a visceral connection to my subject’s world or their story. Every indicator is pointing to the fact that we are nearing the end of the game, and the decisions we make today will seal the fate of wildlife for generations to come. If I can inspire one person to want to learn more and get involved, then it is worth it.
Why is Africa such a source of inspiration for your work?
Africa is the last vestige of the Pleistocene era. It still harbours the “Big Things with Big Teeth”. It is full of extreme beasts that move in ancient rhythms and are all accessible in a fairly non-invasive way. The classic safari makes one feel as if you’re stepping back into the land that time forgot. Africa stimulates our senses in an endemic manner, something that no other continent can do. I first travelled there in 1993 and have never been the same since.
Do you have a favourite place in Africa?
That’s nearly impossible to answer! But if, for some unknown reason, I had only one trip left, it would most likely be to the Grumeti Reserve in Tanzania. There is a house below Sasakwe Hill called Serengeti House, the only private home of its kind in East Africa. The migrations flow around the house, herds of elephants come and drink from the pool and it holds perhaps the densest population of wildlife left in a large conservation landscape in East Africa. It is as close to heaven as one could ever find on Earth!
Your Banovich Wildscapes Foundation currently supports eleven projects in seven countries, which is amazing. Tell us about the foundation.
The Foundation aims to conserve the wild in the remaining landscapes that make them an ecological treasure for all of us to enjoy. We have all travelled to places where the big things with big teeth have been displaced or removed. Something always feels dead to me in those hallowed environments. There are still a few vestiges of habitat that still harbour the mega fauna in an intact ecosystem that replenish our spirits and renew our passions for living. In fact, spending time in wild, intact ecosystems has scientifically proven health benefits.
What is the Lion P.R.I.D.E. Initiative?
The BWF Lion P.R.I.D.E. Initiative is dedicated to conserving lions. Lions probably number fewer than 25,000, and are largely confined to scattered parks and reserves, too isolated to protect populations long term from disease, genetic inbreeding and political instability.
In 2019, you are going to feature in a one-man exhibition titled ‘King of Beasts: John Banovich’ in the Nevada Museum of Art. Tell us about that.
King of Beasts features more than 30 artworks that explore questions about mankind’s deep fear, love and admiration for these creatures. Most people will never see a lion in the wild. One day, without human intervention, no one will ever again see these magnificent animals in their own habitat. This exhibition calls out to viewers who love fine art and all things wild; once they begin their personal journey, it is our hope that patrons will emerge changed, better educated and, hopefully, inspired and ready and to help make a difference.
Are you working on any artwork at the moment? If so, what?
I am currently working on my one-thousandth painting, titled The Making of King, a 12-panel painting sized nearly 8ft by 8ft depicting the life of a lion. It follows the lion from the moment of his birth to his final days 12 years later, which is a normal lifespan. This visual narrative will reveal a life well lived. Each panel will depict a milestone moment reflective of his most profound challenges, success and failures as the cat grows and survives in the animal kingdom. It will be displayed next year in the King of Beasts exhibition.
Do you have any future plans to visit Africa? What is on your bucket list?
Well, this June, my wife Amy and I are taking our girls Siana (7) and Mara (5) – both have been given Maasai names – to Africa for the very first time. This safari adventure will take us to an amazing place called Chem Chem and then on to Serengeti House in the western corridor of the Serengeti. This is a trip I have dreamed about for years: to take my children to the place that has inspired my life’s work. It is something I hope to do many times in the future.
To see more of John’s art, visit johnbanovichfineart.com.