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Winged Messenger: The Art of Raymond Ching
by Jen Longshaw

Raymond Ching Ducks

Raymond Harris Ching is a world-renown bird painter and artist's artist. He is also an interesting contrast of wild bohemian and painstaking scientist.

Considered by many to be one of the most gifted bird painters of the 20th century Raymond Harris Ching's finely detailed paintings have become eagerly sought after by discerning art lovers.If you are a big fan of his work, with the development of fast speed internet like
o2 broadband, you can now find information on him and look at his pictures whenever you want. However, the pristine workmanship obvious in these images belies the haphazard manner in which Ching works, his itinerant lifestyle and his almost careless disregard for his own art.

Raymond Ching BearBorn in New Zealand Ching now spends his time working in studios on opposite sides of the world. Whether in England, Australia or back home he is always yearning to be somewhere else. Perhaps this is why his studios are incomplete haphazard sanctums where no cleaner is allowed. Cluttered with paintings, sketches and articles each studio is also adorned with stacks of cigarette butts and ash piled up in mounds two feet high against the walls. As he paces up and down in meditation Ching raises a cloud of dust that settles in a filmy layer across his latest work propped on an easel, supported by nails that he hammers in to stop the painting moving! When he isn't wandering he works under a 75-watt light bulb while perched uncomfortably on his favorite 18th century chair.

Ching's initial exhibition was held in 1966 at the John Leech Gallery in Auckland, New Zealand. "Thirty Birds" set the tone for his later work with highly detailed watercolors executed in dry brush technique. There was intense concentration on the variation of plumage and the colors and patterns inherent in each feather. Although there was no attempt to show the bird in its surroundings there were sometimes exceptions with perhaps a view of a female sparrow (one of his favorite subjects) nesting in a rusty paint can or a small barn owl lying on its back at the base of a tree.Raymond Ching Book

Ching first came to the attention of the wider art world in the 1970's when he began illustrating the first in a series of now classic bird books including "The Bird Paintings" (1978), "The Art of Raymond Ching" (1981) and "Wild Portraits" (1988). Adopting the methods of a scientist Ching was painstaking in his observation. He would go out in the field to study his subjects but was also known for working from dead birds in his studio. A feverish worker he would compulsively paint and draw until he had captured both the essence and the reality of the creature there before him. Immortalised in a series of technically brilliant paintings these photo realistic portraits became wildly popular and inspired an entire generation of wildlife artists.

As time has flowed on Ching has mellowed. Although he was once obsessed with detail he now has loosened his style completing works that are perhaps more powerful in their understated presence. The study sketch is his meti¾r with the preparatory drawings for each painting often being finely detailed observations of his subjects. He draws the painting on with rapid brushstrokes after spending time meticulously transferring his sketches onto a sanded gessoed panel. Although he will occasionally work on canvas he much prefers masonite. He thins the paint pigment so that it is almost transparent and builds the painting in layers. Sometimes it is even still possible to see the underdrawing in the finished work.

Raymond Ching TigerRaymond Ching is an interesting dichotomy. He is the personification of the wild artistic personality while also demonstrating the infinite patience and observation skills of the scientist. His gypsy life style may prevent him from maintaining a conventionally professional studio but it also allows him to experience many different environments and to discover new varieties of bird and animal life to capture in his unique wild portraits. With the latest developments in his technique Ching's work will continue to evolve and challenge. He is truly an artist's artist.

This article was first published on Suite101.

©Jen Longshaw 2000-2006 Please do not copy in any manner, print or electronic, without permission from the author.


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