Last week Zazzle artist John Dyer travelled all the way from Falmouth, Cornwall to the tribal village of Mutum, in the Acre region of the Amazon rainforest, Brazil. With him, he brought some high-tech satellite equipment and plenty of art supplies.
The expedition is the first chapter in an incredible new project called ‘Last Chance to Paint,’ which will see John paint endangered ecosystems and peoples around the world. On their travels, John and his team will connect with schools via technology to share their experiences and art, and to inspire children to create their own paintings of rapidly disappearing wildlife and cultures.
We caught up with John before he set off to find out more about this exciting and eye-opening project!
Tell us a bit more about Last Chance to Paint! When and why did you decide to launch the initiative?
Ever since I travelled to the Amazon rainforest in 1989 as a photographer for Thames TV, I have been exploring the world through my art. That adventure convinced me that painting was a more powerful medium to connect to the natural world, and I have painted ever since. Painting allows an artist to not only capture what they see but also what they feel, and that magical place where the two intersect is art.
Over the last 18 years, I have been honoured to be able to explore environmental subjects around the globe, and in the world’s largest captive rainforest, with the Eden Project as their artist in residence. My last big project was in 2015 when I met an Amazon Indian, Nixiwaka Yawanawá. I discovered his dream was to paint and we worked together on ‘Spirit of the Rainforest’, which inspired more than 1,000 children to celebrate tribal culture with their own artwork.
Last year, I was 50 years old and a new book was published about my life and work with a foreword by Alan Titchmarsh: ‘John Dyer – Painting the Colours of the World’. The last chapter in this book was titled ‘Last Chance to Paint’, and literally maps out endangered environments around the world that I would love to paint: the places, people, animals and plants we might lose if we are not careful.
I decided that if we gained support and used the latest satellite and web technology, we could make this idea into a much bigger four-year arts and educational project. We wanted to enable schools to be in the moment, to ask questions and to ‘travel’ with me to connect them to the world. Last Chance to Paint then quickly became a reality as it resonated well with everyone I approached.
What are the first locations on your itinerary? How did you choose them, and what are you planning to paint there?
The first three chapters of the project are funded and planned. I wanted to connect back with Nixiwaka Yawanawá to paint with him again as the tribe invited me to do so. This became the obvious first chapter and is called ‘Spirit of the Rainforest 2’. I will be travelling with one of the world’s greatest explorers on the first two chapters, Robin Hanbury-Tenison, OBE. Our next chapter will be to visit the Penan tribe in Borneo, where more than 90% of the rainforest has now been felled. I will also be working with the Orangutan Foundation and painting and drawing orangutans. So Borneo is Chapter two of the project and is called ‘Person of the Forest’. The third chapter is named ‘Precious Africa’, and is literally a Last Chance to Paint the world’s last two Northern White Rhino before this species is lost from planet earth. It has to be one of the first chapters because when I started to plan the project there were three rhinos, but with the death of the last male Northern White Rhino, there are now only two and time is very short.
Why do you think art is such an effective medium for engaging children with important issues like conservation and climate change? How can schools get involved in this project?
David Attenborough said recently: “No one will protect what they don’t care about, and no one will care about what they have never experienced.” This is exactly what we hope to address as when a child takes time to make a piece of art they are pausing to think, to reflect, to look and will start to care for the subject. This reflective and creative space is really important and is something I believe can be harnessed in a powerful way.
Schools can take part in Last Chance to Paint from all over the world for free! All we ask is that they let us know by registering their interest on our website. Once they have done that, they should follow the Last Chance to Paint live blog and social media so that can ‘travel’ with us and send us their questions. They can have a Q&A with an Amazon Indian tribe, the Penan Tribe in Borneo and experts in Africa, as well as asking me and the team whatever they wish via this page. It will send the content of their message to us wherever we are in the world via satellite. Pretty cool!
We also have downloadable lesson plans, created by the Born Free Foundation, available for teachers to make delivering the project really easy. We also hope every child will be able to have their art uploaded to us so we can exhibit it on our online gallery, which we aim to be the best and largest art celebration of planet earth by children in the world.
Will your resulting artwork be available to buy on Zazzle?
Yes! We have a new Zazzle store dedicated to Last Chance to Paint that already has several of my paintings. As each chapter of the project is completed, new artworks will be added and we are using the profits raised from the sales to help us fund future chapters of Last Chance to Paint. I think it is really inspiring for children to see an artist at work, to be able to ask questions and then to see that artist’s work published and available for sale. It’s an amazing process and the Zazzle platform allows me to make a great variety of art available on a wide range of items that will hopefully inspire and connect those who purchase them. If anyone would like to donate directly, they can do so on our gofundme page.
We can’t wait to see the new paintings added to John Dyer’s store, and will be tuning in to follow his adventures live from the rainforest and beyond!