About the artist
Taken from the Guardian obituary, written by Tim Dee 11.01,19
The wildlife artist Greg Poole, who has died aged 58 after a heart attack, was among the best of a generation who revitalised a tradition always in danger of lapsing into decorative prettiness. His artwork is distinctive for its bold design and graphic verve, the confidence and intensity of his line, a vivid palette and the successful capture of the continuum of life. Snapshots of the natural world – otters, bees, curlews, bluebells – executed with speed and the intensity of field sketches, coalesce into fully realised pictures of nature at large.
His was a kind of subjective realism. He drew his animals and plants as they were (he was always interested in habitats too), but also as he experienced them. Many wildlife artists start out with art and find their subject; he began as a birdwatcher and wildlife observer and found art the only release for what nature stirred in him. He worked in the field, sprawled on the ground, with paper clipped to a card (no easel, no artist’s stool) and often used twigs as his pens or brushes. Encamped in a Norfolk saltmarsh, he requisitioned old cornflake boxes to print miraculous images of the samphire at his feet and the oystercatchers in a creek.
He gathered his material directly, but made his marks from memory, turning from the storm of life that he loved, and putting down on paper what of it, in his head, he knew and felt. On the Bass Rock, off the east coast of Scotland, having stared long and hard at its breeding gannets (a species he had always regarded closely), he looked away from the mayhem of bickering birds on a guano-spattered cliff top and reproduced it in his own way. A resulting monotype gives as near to total gannet as seems possible. Fellow artists recall him napping among those gannets, having done his stuff, his paint box for a pillow.
Animals are the oldest of all subjects, yet much recent wildlife art has been in awe of the real. Today’s images of animals most often are photographs or somewhat clinical illustrations. Greg’s art was utterly different, though no less accurate for all its subjectivity. As a birdwatcher, Greg had learned the jizz – the total combination of characteristics that serve to identify a particular species – of birds: his essence-gathering techniques showed he knew all about that. The nitty-gritty of the creature is in every picture and the viewer can always identify the species shown (unmistakably, a pair of simple blocky rectangles is a herring gull); but every picture also has Greg’s indelible signature.
Born in Bristol to May (nee Rex), a teaching assistant, and John Poole, a gas fitter, Greg was one of three boys; his brother Matthew died in childhood. The family lived in Redland and he attended Cotham grammar school. A keen birdwatcher in his youth, he became a skilled observer; he trained to ring birds and travelled to study them.
He read zoology at Cardiff University, graduating in 1983. Soon after, on a field trip in the Canadian Arctic, he found that a scientist’s account of the lives of animals and plants could not convey his experiences of nature. “I was with one other ornithologist, in a tent on a beach ridge hundreds of miles from the nearest people,” he said. “Icebergs offshore, caribou migrating, arctic fox on the neighbouring ridge and all kinds of exotic birds in this near 24-hour clear light. It was a sensory overload and I didn’t know what to do with it. Some of the time [I had] to retreat into the tent. I made the resolution to find a way of expressing what I was seeing as soon as I returned to Britain.”
Volunteering at Bardsey Island bird observatory, off the coast of north Wales, Greg began drawing seriously there, then, in 1989, did an art foundation course at Manchester Polytechnic. For the rest of his life he scraped a living as an artist. He took commissions, journeyed to paint on behalf of Artists for Nature conservation projects – including to India (2000), the Catalan Pyrenees (2001) and the Hula Valley in Israel (2009) – made information panels for nature reserves and served on the council of the Society of Wildlife Artists. During this time he also exhibited and sold pictures.
He sought the creative company of a few way-marking older artists, admiring John Paige’s collages and the late David Measures’ butterflies (the two made “push-and-pull pictures” together – shared work done on a single canvas), as well as a handful of like-minded contemporaries (Kim Atkinson most significantly). Latterly Greg taught many painting courses outdoors, in particular at the John Busby seabird drawing course on the Scottish east coast for more than a decade. A tough and opinionated tutor, he was highly valued by those he schooled. He also influenced those who had influenced him: “He kicked my arse,” said the artist Bruce Pearson.
Most of his recent time was spent half a mile from where he was brought up in the Bristol home and studio he shared with his partner of 20 years, Susan Morgan, a biology teacher. Converting a vegetable patch into a proto-meadow absorbed him almost as much as his artwork, capturing a pocket-ecosystem of bird’s-foot trefoil, gatekeeper butterflies and a family of foxes. Susan and he attended to one another’s apiaries, the “hotel” he made for the solitary bees on their rewilded allotment, and the honeybees she kept in their garden. He painted and drew them brilliantly.
Once or twice most years Greg travelled to make art elsewhere. He made trips using a camper van as a mobile hide in Namibia and South Africa. In 2008, he travelled with scientists studying the Ethiopian bushcrow to paint the bird, and in Senegal he documented landscapes used by migratory birds for the Flight Lines project (2014). This was followed two years later by a project in Essex to document the creation of a new nature reserve on Wallasea Island.
Although his work was made when sitting still and “dug-in”, movement was in his art and in his attitude to life. Jazz was an early passion, but he also rejoiced in silence. He was serious about everything, but was gentle and funny too. There was playfulness in how he lived and in all his art: he was a rare bird.
Greg is survived by Susan and by his brother Steve.
Gregory Poole, wildlife artist, born 26 October 1960; died 28 December 2018