Painting a rhino is a big challenge. For some, it’s just too big. Artist Stephen Dooley was approached to paint a full-size rhino for Paignton Zoo’s Great Big Rhino Project by Ronnie Halden of Bigwave Media, the marketing agency for Cathedral Financial Management, who are sponsoring this rhino called ‘Cath’.
The Great Big Rhino Project is putting a dazzling free public art trail of 40 life-size painted rhinos around the streets, parks and open spaces of Exeter and the English Riviera this summer. The spectacle is raising awareness and funds to help Critically Endangered wild rhinos.
Painting large is definitely Chagford-based Stephen’s forte. He’s painted room-sized murals and trompe l’oeil walls for pop stars, big businesses and millionaires including entrepreneur Peter de Savery, businessman and politician Lord Ashcroft and singer Jay Kay of Jamiroquai.
After an initial meeting with Ronnie who explained his concept and a subsequent visit to the cathedral left Steve’s imagination filled with sculptures, books and manuscripts; to him, the ancient stone suited the animal’s skin and weight. “I’ve painted in a trompe l’oeil method usually reserved for walls with one viewing point. It’s tricky making it work on a multi-faceted sculpture of an animal, but I have always enjoyed a challenge. I did not want to do a brightly coloured one as that has been done so well on so many others!”
The thing that marks Stephen out as an artist is his versatility. “Design, illustration, large oils, murals, sculpture and computer generated images - I couldn’t do the same thing every day, my imagination is too active. I have always made a very good living from my work, for which I am very thankful!”
Remarkably, Stephen has never been involved in a public art project before, spending his time mostly on private commissions. “It’s great that the public will be able to pat it!”
His ability to paint and draw comes directly from studying wildlife as a boy. “I drew to explore the world, not to create art. I never had art lessons at school, I simply drew anything natural out of a fascination with the natural world.
“On my website there’s a large painting of the head of a rhino - this was done after visiting Paignton Zoo twenty years ago with my then four-year-old daughter. Animals and their misfortune in sharing a small planet with the species known as man has always been at the forefront of my thoughts.”
He attended Chester Art College, gained a top honours Degree from Liverpool Art College in 1976 in Graphic Design then added a post graduate qualification in the Psychology of Perception from Liverpool University the following year.
Stephen’s paintings have been commissioned by London galleries, interior designers and private clients. His work can be found in collections around the world. His murals adorn the walls of castles, chateaux and stately homes.
The Great Big Rhinos will come alive on Saturday 30th July 2016. Money raised will be channeled through Save the Rhino International. Rhinos have been around for 40 million years. There are five species: black, white, greater one-horned, Javan and Sumatran. All of these are threatened with extinction – three are Critically Endangered as defined by the IUCN (World Conservation Union). This means that they will not survive without massive and urgent action.