Wildlife artist Jack Haslam on his lifelong love of London Zoo and his recent collaboration with ZSL...
I was born in 1990 in central London. Although I grew up in the city I was able to meet extraordinary wildlife and explore jungles and deserts, on frequent trips to London Zoo. I have scrapbooks from my visits when I was 3 or 4, and I still go whenever I can. It’s a lifelong relationship, which is why it means so much to me to be able to work with ZSL on this project.
I’ve always had an obsessive nature, and as a kid I would follow the same route around the zoo on every visit. My favourites were the vultures, gorillas and anteaters. Once a zookeeper invited me and my mum inside the anteater house to see the anteaters close up – it was a dream come true.
I fell in love with the details of different species – anteater claws, gorilla cheeks, the way lemur tails curl. I discovered that anteaters can get arthritis, and it fascinated me to think that animals could experience the same conditions as humans. I wondered if any of them ever had ASD. My own ASD means I find people unreliable, unpredictable, unfathomable. Animals are different. Spending time with them, and drawing them, helps me control my feelings and frustrations.
In 2012 my mum, thinking my art was interesting, sent some into the Zoo. I was so proud when I was invited to have an exhibition of my work there – it kickstarted my career as a wildlife artist. Since then I’ve built up a vast portfolio of work, held solo exhibitions, and been nominated for Wildlife Artist of the Year several times. I’ve also been lucky enough to travel to see animals in the wild – I’ve seen leopards in Kenya, snorkelled with fish in Egypt and watched ghost crabs scuttle to their burrows in Barbados. But I always come back to the Zoo.
The Ark illustration, which Shape Arts commissioned me to do, has allowed me to bring all of my favourite wildlife together in one image, and to draw on all of the prints, paintings and sketches I’ve made over the years. The ark is not a religious symbol here but a useful shorthand for ‘all wildlife’, because humans really do impact everything.
I’m proud that the ZSL report, with my illustration on the cover, will be passed into the hands of world leaders at COP this year. But more importantly, I hope those leaders act on the content inside the report. We need to save all the animals – the ones people find ‘interesting’ and the less popular species too.
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