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David Shepherd and his beloved ‘giants’ at 80.

David Shepherd on the footplate of his beloved 'baby'

It was a real pleasure to meet David Shepherd again at a talk at the Royal West of England Academy. Entitled ‘My Crazy Life with Steam and Elephants’ he told many great stories about his life as an artist.  Clearly a very emotionally connected and passionate guy who, at 80 this year, still ‘loves giants’, he talked fondly of bursting into tears when he flew with the RAF memorial Flight Lancaster and drew laughter at his tale of asking the captain of HMS Ark Royal to turn the ship round because the light was in the wrong place for his painting.

His love for BR 9F No 92203 Black Prince is also diminished even if he slightly despairs, he said to me, when he considers the cost of the next 10 yearly overhaul.  I told him that many people on the GWSR missed Black Prince and would be pleased to see her back on the railway and he said that hoped it might return in the future although it was doing well on the Poppy Line (North Norfolk Railway).

On display at the RWA were many beautiful paintings from his own personal collection.  I had not seen many of these before and they do show what an impressive and expressive painter he is of diverse subjects that are often quite removed from the popular subjects of elephants and steam.   My personal favourite was ‘Grandpa’s Workshop’, that shows what a master he is of different textures and his, for me, unexpected ability in highly sensitive portraiture. 

His own painting of 92203 sits in his private collection at home and the original is a wonderfully evocative painting of the engine on shed during the days of the twilight of steam. Also wonderful are the semi derelict scenes at Bournemouth, Guildford and Willesden sheds in the mid 1960s.  The limited edition prints are nice but the originals really gleam with the coal dust, oil, grime and sunlight that were such an atmospheric  feature of those sad days at the end of steam.

I would really recommend going to see the exhibition at the RWA . “Go and see it in daylight,” says David.  “They look much better than under artificial light”.  The exhibition runs until 12 February. Don’t miss it.


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