Dr Christo Delport of Paralowie Veterinary Surgery in SA paints remarkable portraits of the animals of his native South Africa
“I’ve been drawing since I could hold a pencil but I completed my first painting when I was eight years old. It was a large canvas and the subject was a lion. My parents recall how they were woken at 2am by noise from the garage and thought it was burglars. When they went to investigate, it was just me, working on my painting.
“I grew up in South Africa and came to Australia nine years ago. I have always painted but when I arrived here, I started taking art classes regularly to learn as much as I could. For the past five or six years, I’ve only painted animals. I’ve done a few Australian birds but I tend to concentrate on African mammals.
“I use oil paints and stretch my own canvases. Most of my work is very large so I can show plenty of fine detail. Besides, it just doesn’t make sense to do a small painting of a giraffe or an elephant.
“Once I have an idea for a painting, I will walk around with it for months or even years. I use photographs as a starting point. When I went back to South Africa last year, I took 11,000 photos. There were lots of photos of flowers, trees, grasslands and clouds, as well as African animals.
“Each painting takes between 100 and 200 hours to complete. Some of my larger paintings have taken over two years. If I’m really involved in a painting—and I have a day off—I can easily work on it for 12 hours at a time. I don’t normally take part in shows but a couple of years ago, I exhibited some paintings to help raise money for the Pupunya Aboriginal community, north of Alice Springs.
“While I’ve sold a few paintings, that’s not what drives me. I’m in the enviable position where I can paint whatever I want, whenever I want as I don’t need to make a living from it.
“I’m a very visual person and will often paint a whole story in my head. When I’m painting an animal, it tells me something about what’s happening in life and around me. So much of our own lives are expressed in nature.
“I’ve tried a few other subjects, such as landscapes and portraits, but I always come back to the animals. Maybe that first lion I painted as a kid set me on a path. I see the stories in nature, I see the stories in animals, and that’s the important thing for me.”