All About - Judith MacKay

Animal Artist

I was surrounded by animals and wildlife from the moment I was born in 1943. We lived in Carpenders Park on the edge of Bushy, Hertfordshire where our garden backed onto glorious green fields and woodland. We had a lovely dog named Jan and kept chickens at the bottom of our garden.  We had a vegetable patch a lovely lawn to play on and flower borders and shrubs a very rural setting.  In 1948 we moved to the West Country and spent many years living on various farms and the opportunity to learn about the wildlife that inhabited the surrounding countryside. For me it was an idyllic childhood that was to have a lasting effect and to play such an important role throughout my life as I always had a constant yearning to be and live in the countryside that I love.

Both my parents were artistic and loved to read, so there were always books about The Old Masters, Impressionists and whatever artist was in vogue at that time. There were books of poetry as well as numerous biographies and novels to browse and read. We would visit museums and art galleries and I acquired an appreciation of paintings, ceramics, sculpture and jewellery throughout history. When I lived in Edinburgh I went along to the Royal Academy to view an exhibition of Jean Baptiste Corot’s beautiful paintings. They were breathtaking and even today I still find them as inspiring and entrancing as I did when I first came across his work in 1962.

Judith enjoying an Ice-Cream in Verona (Italy)

Both my parents were artistic and loved to read, so there were always books about The Old Masters, Impressionists and whatever artist was in vogue at that time. There were books of poetry as well as numerous biographies and novels to browse and read. We would visit museums and art galleries and I acquired an appreciation of paintings, ceramics, sculpture and jewellery throughout history. When I lived in Edinburgh I went along to the Royal Academy to view an exhibition of Jean Baptiste Corot’s beautiful paintings. They were breathtaking and even today I still find them as inspiring and entrancing as I did when I first came across his work in 1962.

In 1969 I took the opportunity to go and live and study History of Art in Florence. I was captivated by my surroundings and the wonderful art museums for me to visit at my leisure and absorb as much as I could about their style and technique. In fact you never stop learning every time I see a Leonardo, a Botticelli or Renoir I see something that I hadnt noticed before. I marvel at their ability to capture such beauty, colour and realism into their paintings.  

For a while life kind of intervened and then I was once again captivated by the wildlife programmes on television, particularly Flight of the Condor with David Attenborough and Big Cat Diaries with Simon King, but most of all I longed to go on safari to see these wonderful animals in their natural surroundings. My dream came true as my daughter Fiona, went to live and work at Drifters Game Lodge in Balule Nature Reserve on the edge of the Greater Kruger National Park in 2003. I dont think I gave her time to settle in before I asked if I could visit. It was the most magical time for me, an experience I will never forget was the very first time I entered the Balule Reserve for there in front of me were Kudu, Giraffe and Impala all grazing quietly in the African sunshine. It was as though they had come to greet me and writing this I am back there experiencing that moment once again. Simply breathtaking.

I instantly fell in love with the African Bush and its wildlife, as my Grandmother had been when she visited Hwange Nature Reserve in the early 1960s in what was then Northern Rhodesia. Seeing, elephant, giraffe, buffalo, wildebeest, zebra, dwarf mongoose, jackals, hyenas, lions, waterbuck as well as the wonderful bird life and raptors was a life changing experience.  To be alongside these creatures with only the vehicle you were travelling in for protection or with a ranger on foot in the bush was the most magical experience I have ever had. It has left me with a determination to use my art to help people see what I was able to see and bring that connection with these magnificent animals to the viewers of my paintings.

In 2013 both James and Fiona contributed to a wonderful Art Safari with Mary-Anne Bartlett to paint the wildlife of South Luangwa National Park in Zambia. It was absolutely wonderful to be back in Africa and with its iconic wildlife. I loved Zambia and it’s very different landscape to South Africa. It was here that I first encountered Puku, Crested Cranes, Carmine Bee Eaters and the Thornicroft Giraffe. On our very first morning game drive in the Park we met the Punk Pride of lions that were recently featured on a television documentary and I have some amazing photographs of them.  Thank you both for your continued support.   

Although I took numerous photos on my trips to South Africa and later Zambia I have been fortunate in having an extensive library of photographs my daughter Fiona took whilst living in South Africa as well as her trips to Namibia, Botswana, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Uganda, Rwanda, Zimbabwe and Zambia and visiting her friends in South Africa, in particular the Kruger National Park, after her return to the UK.

As I write this I am forever mindful of what a wonderful life I have had thus far and more importantly that if Fiona had not gone to live and work in South Africa I might not have become an artist let alone a wildlife artist. My safaris to South Africa and my daughters photographs as well as her constant encouragement have played a huge roll in my development as a wildlife artist for which I will forever be indebted. I have come along way from my first endeavours to paint the wildlife I fell in love with in 2006 and with my discovery of pastels I believe I now have what it takes to be a Wildlife Artist and help support the conservation movements through my paintings.

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