Africa’s wild beauty captured one artwork at a time

By Candice de Beer

There is something quite special about Gareth Hook. A talented Zimbabwean wildlife artist, his passion for the African bush comes to life in artworks that are nothing short of extraordinary. Fastjet sat down with Hook to shed a little light on his astounding oil paintings and graphite sketches.

On first glance, it’s quite easy to mistake Hook’s art for a photograph. Only on closer inspection does one realise that the image is in fact oil on canvas. The detail and realism of his artworks and sketches is masterful.

It’s taken him years to cultivate his style and craft, and he credits Craig Bone (a great friend and fellow artist) as his inspiration. As a young boy he watched Bone paint on his farm, and that was where his love for art began.

When asked why he specifically chose wildlife art, Hook explains that “there is a calling or feeling that people hold onto when they have experienced the bush. My paintings evoke these memories.”  He adds, “I’m very fortunate to experience the bush as it is now. Our wildlife and its habitats are under threat and I can only hope that it is still around when my grandchildren are old enough to appreciate it.” It’s about representing what he sees – the raw, untamed beauty of the African bush and its inhabitants.

But what goes into creating a work of art? “My process normally starts with an idea or thought… something I have seen or a scene that I have sketched quickly. [I’ll look] through my archive of photographs and source material to find an image to start with. From there I ask myself if the painting needs anything extra, like a pair of Egyptian geese in the foreground. Or does it need to be simplified.” It’s all about finding a balance.

One artwork which perfectly captures this balance is ‘Boy of Banyini’ – painted three years ago. The inspiration came from a photograph of a hyena resting at a waterhole, which a friend had given him. The serenity of the image spoke to him and he simply had to paint it. Hook mentions, “This taught me that good reference material more often than not leads to good paintings.”

Boy of Banyini, © Gareth Hook

When asked how long it takes to produce an artwork, Hook says, “it all depends on the artwork. What size is the image? Am I using oils or graphite, and what is the subject matter? A painting measuring 80 x 120 cm of a lone ‘dagga boy’ with an out of focus background might take me half the time as a similar sized painting with a herd of elephants coming down to drink at a waterhole.” It’s all in the detail.

And it’s easy to romanticise his life. Who wouldn’t want to spend their time on game drives photographing the African bush and in a studio recreating these images on canvas? No one to answer too, no set work hours – idyllic! Having said this, the reality is quite different.  

His life is not easy. More than often it’s lonely. And like any other job, implementing a routine is essential. If he’s not creating, and selling, he’s not putting food on the table or keeping the electricity switched on. And when you have a family to take care of, financial security is non-negotiable. He adds that when work is not going well it can be depressing. But his wife and family keep his spirits up. Apparently “a quick trip to the bush is also good for a bit of inspiration.”

I asked if creatively, Hook does damage to an artwork by painting on off days. “Yes! I generally feel guilty if I don’t work, but I have realised that on these days it is better to leave the paint brush where it is. I prefer to cut and prime canvas, and prepare for new work on days like these. It also helps to chat to … fellow artists. They provide a much needed critical eye to keep me honest in what I am doing.”

Knowing that he had studied a Bachelor of Fine Art at Rhodes University, I wondered whether his degree had prepared him for a career as an artist. “I was closed minded when I began my studies. I thought art was all about painting what you saw. I was wrong. University was all about the creation process.  My degree opened my eyes to all sorts of arts and artistic processes. But how to be an artist – I don’t think university prepared me.”

Perhaps it is safe to say that only through trying can you really know if this is the career for you.

His advice for budding young artists, “Ask yourself if you truly want this as a career? If you have the passion and drive, go for it. It can be very rewarding.”  

You can view and purchase any of Hook’s spectacular pieces via www.garethhook.com. He’s also on Facebook and Instagram; look for Hooked on Art.

Tanzanian Giant, © Gareth Hook