Born in Wellington in 1939, Raymond Ching is widely considered the be one of the world’s foremost contemporary bird painters.
In the 1960s Ching began to exhibit and sell paintings of birds. His first exhibition, Thirty Birds at John Leech Galleries in 1966 was of highly detailed watercolours using a drybrush technique.
The exhibition was a sellout and attracted the attention of Sir William Collins of Collins publishing. A keen ornithologist, Sir William was scouring the world for bird painters to produce a prestigious series of books. Sir William visited Ching in New Zealand and on returning to the UK took some of Ching’s work to his friend, Sir Peter Scott, who then telegraphed Ching inviting him to call on him at Slimbridge.
Within a short time, Ching moved to London. Before Collins had a chance to produce the book discussed with Sir William, Ray was introduced to The Reader’s Digest who, with Collins, had been planning a major book on the birds of Britain.
Impressed by the originality and uniqueness of Ching’s work, the publishers quickly realised that they had found the artist for their book. They asked him how long he would need to paint the 230 full-colour portraits required. The publishers believed the project entailed as much as six years’ work, and had earlier thought to spread the commission among six artists, each to take a year. Although he had arrived in England with the intention of getting on with his own book, the offer struck a nerve in the young colonial wanting to make his mark. “I can do them all myself and in under a year!” he rashly declared. It was a huge effort and by the end of the year he was ill, exhausted and penniless.
Published in 1969, The Reader’s Digest Book of British Birds has become the world’s most successful book of birds and has been translated into many languages. It remains in print and has had an enormous influence on both bird lovers and artists, the images often being copied and illegally reproduced as the original work of other artists.
Before the book was published Ray had moved to Rye, East Sussex. There he continued to paint, primarily birds and other animals. He works in oils and watercolours, usually on a gessoed masonite panel or canvas which allow the intricate detail that is typified in his work. The style of his art might be described as conservative realism, most images having an almost photographic quality, although he is often comfortable leaving out detail in the backgrounds.
Ching is best known for his paintings of birds, but his portraits are highly acclaimed and examples are held in Te Papa Tongarewa, Dunedin Public Art Gallery and the Suter Gallery, Nelson.
In 2010 Ching exhibited a new series of works, Aesop’s Kiwi Fables. Ching gave the traditional fables an entirely new location and cast. Aesop’s fables left their origins in Greece and Ancient Europe and set off to the distant isles of New Zealand. In 2012 a new publication accompanied the second Aesop’s Kiwi Fables exhibition. The book, Aesop’s Kiwi Fables: Paintings by Ray Ching, sold out of its first print run that year.
During that same year Raymond Ching was commissioned by Sir David Attenborough to paint the large oil used to illustrate the cover of his latest book, Drawn from Paradise. Ching completed a 1.8 x 2.4 m oil on canvas work entitled, End to the Squandering of Beauty (Entry of the Birds of Paradise into Western Thought).