Jeff Davies
Wildlife Artist Specializing In Birds And Their Environment
Artist's Profile

Born in 1957 my early years were spent in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne. In those days grassy paddocks and Ti Tree swamps were as close as the end of the street. An affinity for the natural world was forged in that environment, a relationship that has ruled my life ever since. My father Rex was an active member of the Bird Observers Club and I must have been very young when he began taking me on regular birding trips in the company of many legendary birders of the time. He gave me my first pair of binoculars and instilled in me a passion for birding that became an obsession.  Following the lead of my parents who were both accomplished artists, it wasn't long before I began to draw and eventually paint the birds seen on these travels with my father. The wild places he took me to still remain as do the memories of new species seen for the first time and of wise old men with a wealth of knowledge. I find visiting those same places now, spiritually rejuvenating and provide a context for my life which can be easily lost in the city.

During the mid 1970's I studied Fine Arts with a Painting Major at Caulfield Institute of Technology, focusing primarily on abstract oil painting.  Abstract painting illuminated for me among other things, the primary importance of composition and overall structure.  Although my work is now realist, the same rules still apply.  Consequently I gain as much inspiration from viewing a piece by Robert Motherwell as that of Robert Bateman.  Returning to realist representation was more an inevitability than a conscious decision.  I was employed with the Victorian Department of Fisheries and Wildlife as a technical assistant when I began producing the occasional illustration for various scientific  papers.  This led to an invitation to illustrate the "Freshwater and Estuarine Fishes of Wilson's Promontory" (Fisheries and Wildlife Division 1983).  I was then invited by Brett Lane to illustrate "Shorebirds of Australia" (Nelson 1987).  In 1987 I finally took up illustration full time with my appointment as chief artist to the "Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic Birds", produced by Birds Australia and published by Oxford Australia.  During my ten years with HANZAB I contributed over 236 colourplates, consisting of 2,434 individual images portraying all known plumages of the species described.  My work appears in the first four volumes which cover the non-passerines.  The most satisfying aspect of my involvement with HANZAB was the opportunity to present new plumages, some of which were first described during production of the book.  During 1994 eight paintings where produced for "The Penguins" (Oxford UK 1995) as part of their Bird Families of the World series.

By 1998, with a decade spent on the Handbook, I was ready for a change.  After the scientific rigor of illustrating HANZAB  I wanted to get back to art for arts sake.  I also wanted to work more sensible hours. The long uninterrupted working day demanded of this project had ultimately evolved into a nocturnal lifestyle, and I needed to make more daytime available for my young daughter.  I was ready to paint birds in their unique environments, the way I had viewed them for thirty or more years.  The resulting paintings are now found in collections in Australia and North America and have largely been private commissions.

My most recent works are larger scale. They reflect a desire to show more of the habitat of the subject species, and allow a greater variety of elements for a more complex composition.  I want people looking at my work to recognize familiar scenes, reminiscent of their own observations of wild birds.  With the increase in size of my work I have been tempted to switch media to Oil paint, but I am now very comfortable with a combination of Watercolour, Gouache and acrylic on Rag paper.  It's somewhat unconventional but it works for me and I am still discovering new ways of getting the most out of this unorthodox combination.