Have you ever experienced a heat so intense it feels as if a life size blow dryer is bombarding you relentlessly? That is how I would describe the heat of Gonarezhou National Park in November. There is no off-switch. Dry, hot and definitely not advisable for the faint-hearted. In temperatures of mid to high 40’s, I spent a week in the wilderness of Gonerezhou documenting the renowned wildlife artist Larry Norton at work.
Larry, tough as nails and dedicated to his art form, was camped a short walk away from the Runde riverbed. Getting clean meant either washing from a bucket or taking a swim in the Runde river and the sundowners were careful sips of the near on boiling beers.
Each morning Larry and Stanley would carefully portage a 1,1m x 2,5m canvas from the campsite to a shady spot along the riverbed. Crowned by the splendour of the sandstone Chilojo cliffs, Larry would spend the day meticulously painting the story as it would unfold – an elephant bull intrigued by our presence or the metamorphosis of the sandy yellowish-brown to pinky-red cliffs with the shifting light or of the sweeping sands below. By dusk, after a full day exposed to high temperatures and winds, Larry and Stanley, red-eyed and exhausted would pack up, return to camp to a simple dinner of canned meat and rice and turn in.
Larry is the real deal. Paint, brushes, canvas, deft hands and sharp eyes and that is it. There are no photographs or projectors to cheapen the field painting procedure. He starts with a pencil and blank canvas and finishes with a raw masterpiece. Some detail will be added later on from reference material. Larry takes no short cuts. I know, I’ve watched him.
It was nothing short of a privilege to observe the artist at work. As the week bore on and the harshness of the conditions continued, I began to realise what a remarkable achievement it is for a man to have successfully carved out such a life. Larry’s passion is his true art form; he paints because he must. It is rare to find someone who has the guts to chase their dreams, and do so regardless of how seemly impossible the aim or how unconventional the lifestyle. I think, that is one of the markers of a genius – belief, purpose and dogged persistence.
I will be releasing a short-film in the early months of 2016 documenting the creative process behind a Larry Norton painting. For now, I continue to find specks of sand in my camera equipment and dream of the lions, elephants and starry night skies.