In the nature of things - Inspirational painter
In the early 1990s, school leaver Richard Boyd-Dunlop painted bold, bright designs on white T-shirts and sold them on the main street of the Auckland suburb Howick. “People bought them as soon as I had finished painting them and took them away with the paint still wet,” he says. Richard’s body of work is still bold and bright, but it’s now mostly on canvas and sold in galleries.
Since his T-shirt days he’s spent time in Europe, the United Kingdom, North Africa, Australia and the Pacific Islands and the need to make art has always travelled with him. After a day’s labouring in Sydney or a night of managing a bar in Cardiff, he’d sit and doodle with ballpoint pens and coloured markers – whatever was to hand. It was relaxing and creatively satisfying and people liked what they saw.
Richard loves the theatrical side of painting. In Barcelona he staked out a patch on Las Ramblas – a long pedestrian boulevard full of cafés, markets and buskers – and painted in front of crowds of a hundred or more. “I loved it! I was painting my diary on a long narrow strip of canvas I’d brought with me. People would come back throughout the day to see how the work was developing.”
He spent about seven years away from New Zealand and still travels regularly. In 2003 he painted in Hawaii and at the Beachcomber Gallery in Rarotonga; he has exhibited in Kings Cross in Sydney and spent time on Niue with artist friend Mark Cross. He spent six weeks in Europe last year and held an exhibition in Cardiff of art-work he’d created just a fortnight earlier, on the streets of Prague during that city’s Biennale.
“I find travel really inspiring,” says Richard. “Going to different places lets me take a fresh look at everything around me. It gives me energy and that energy shows in my paintings.” When he isn’t travelling, Richard lives with his partner Victoria Cranwell, a professional photographer and preschool teacher, on a Whitford (east Auckland) property that has been in his family for three generations. The former packing shed is now home, studio and gallery for Richard and Victoria.
The front lawn, which is bigger than many city parks, runs right down to the sea and swimming and kayaking are constant pleasures for Richard and Victoria in the warmer months. The vast glasshouses that once cosseted his parents’ crops of tomatoes and melons have been dismantled, leaving sight lines unimpeded. There are no fences or hedges between this property and the neighbours on either side, which adds to the sense of spaciousness. And a nine-hole golf course stretches right across the three properties.
Landscaped oases, lovingly designed and tended by Richard’s green-fingered parents, who live in the family home behind the former packing shed, flourish in place of the former irrigation ponds.On sunny days, Richard likes to take his easel out on the lawn. “It’s an inspiring place to be and the sunlight makes the bright acrylics I use look even brighter.”
Victoria grew up in the city but loves their country retreat. “The only problem is that it’s so relaxing and quiet out here, if you’re not very motivated, it can be very difficult to get anything done!”
Richard’s approach to painting is organic and spontaneous. He loves the potential of a blank canvas and the process of building up, layer upon layer, colour upon colour, message upon story upon pattern, until the work feels complete. Though environmental concerns underpin most of his work, there’s nothing didactic about his approach and he loves to emphasise quirkiness.
Recently Richard won the first prize in an art competition organised by the Auckland Regional Council and Howick’s creative centre, Uxbridge, to raise awareness of the pollution in the Tamaki Estuary. The winning work is dominated by a huge stylised flounder, with buildings and other signs of human presence pressing in on it.
“I’m interested in interactions between man and nature,” he says. “Being from nature ourselves, we mean well most of the time but we don’t always get the right balance.”
For web exclusive images see the Photo Gallery attached to this story.
Story: Alice Leonard
Photographs: Minka Firth