With the recent release of her new prints ‘African Fish Eagle’ and ‘Carmines’, Emily Lamb spoke to Olivia Rook about her love affair with Africa, her efforts to combine narrative and art, and her collaboration with her grandfather David Shepherd
When did you fall in love with Africa?
Growing up, my sister and I travelled alongside my mother (CEO of the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation at the time) on her project audits to various conservation initiatives. Over the years, I quietly soaked up the spirit and soul of that continent before realising I was hopelessly in love with it.
What inspired you to become an artist?
Both sides of my family are hugely artistic thinkers, and their unwavering dedication to creative endeavours has been instilled into me. I have always wanted to be an artist, and I probably couldn’t escape this even if I wanted to.
How would you describe your artistic style?
My style is something I have always struggled to explain. I think it’s best to let other people decide what they think of my work and how it makes them feel. I’m trying to translate the places, people and creatures of Africa into a medium that can communicate the beauty and emotion that the continent evokes in me. I was taught at school to draft and consider classic methods of oil painting. I’m consciously trying to break down those rules, but I also trust the skills that I have learnt.
Do you have a subject that you particularly enjoy painting?
I love painting animals. There is something very elemental and strong about a creature in the wild, which I am inherently drawn to. Lions are a big part of my artwork, as well as elephants. They feel like part of my family.
What have you learnt from your grandfather, David Shepherd, about your shared passions: Africa and art?
My grandfather has always shared his passion for Africa with me – he taught me how to embrace the wilderness and really see what is out there. We love painting together and building our dreams and goals for the continent through our work. We share a kindred spirit that simply longs to paint. I have a deep respect for him and trust his guidance.
You have donated some of your artwork to the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation (DSWF) – can you tell us more about the charity and how our can readers support its work?
DSWF was founded by my grandfather 30 years ago and was run for 27 years by my mother, Melanie Shepherd. We fund projects that cover the range of issues attributed to conservation and species survival. We support an extremely dedicated team of people on the ground, such as keepers, rangers, pilots, vets and lawyers. Art is used as a fundraising tool, which is something that I’m particularly passionate about. Not only is it an opportunity for me and others to showcase our work, but art is something that people can take away with them and enjoy for a lifetime, while also supporting an amazing cause.
Tell us about your new prints ‘African Fish Eagle’ and ‘Carmines’ – where did your inspiration come from?
The inspiration for the former came from an exhibition some years ago, when I collaborated with my great friends Justine Annegard and David Filer in Johannesburg. I painted on Justine’s family farm for six weeks prior to the exhibition and experienced solitary time in the bush. I allowed my mind to draw connections from my travels – hence the birds, the people, the elephants.
The latter was inspired by a trip to Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park, where I had a good five days of game drives and painting on the stoops of the camps at Robin Pope Safaris. The carmines nest in the riverbanks and at dawn and dusk they fly about in their masses. Seeing the warm and cool light bouncing off hundreds of orange-and-turquoise breasted birds was incredible and created this collective energy. The presence of that energy is crucial before I approach a painting.
When will you next be visiting Africa?
For now, I have decided to remain in the UK. With an enormity of traveling reference, I will paint quietly, tucked away in my studio. After an exhibition at the end of this period, I hope to go off the radar and find some new places (for me) to explore in Africa. I miss it greatly, but Africa feels like a home that is always there. When I am watching sunsets in Cornwall, I am always in touch with the energy of Africa.
Find out more about the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation at www.davidshepherd.org, including the way art supports conservation