Ray Harris Ching New Zealand, b. 1939

Harris-Ching dropped out of school at a young age and completed an apprenticeship in advertising, becoming an art director before becoming a full-time painter. He had his first solo exhibition at the John Leech Galleries in Auckland in 1966. Entitled 'Thirty Birds', the show comprised highly detailed watercolours painted in drybrush technique. 

 

The great success of this show led to a mammoth commission to illustrate the Reader's Digest Book of British Birds, which Harris-Ching completed in London over the course of a year. This highly influential book included 230 full-colour pictures, was translated into over ten European languages and has remained in print ever since its publication in 1969. 

 

After this considerable achievement, Harris-Ching moved out of London but remained in the UK, where he has continued to paint birds, as well as other wildlife subjects and some portraits. Harris-Ching designed a 1999 British postage stamp, Darwin's theory, as part of a series on famous scientists. He is married to Carol Sinclair, who has produced a biography of the artist.

Harris-Ching has held solo shows at the Tryon in 1986, 1988, 1993, 1998, and 2007.

 

Harris was founded internationally by Sir William Collins of Collins publishing. A devoted and dexterous ornithologist, Sir William was raking through the world for bird painters and artists to create a noble series of books. Sir William arrived in New Zealand, took part in Ching's second exhibition at the John Leech Galleries and conversed about publishing a book of his work. On returning to the UK, Sir William took a few of Ching's work to his friend, Sir Peter Scott, who then telegraphed Ching, summoning him to call on him at Slimbridge.

 

Ching moved to London within a brief time, where he resided near Portobello Road. Before Collins had an opportunity to create the book debated about with Sir William, Ray was acquainted with The Reader's Digest, who, with Collins, had been arranging and designing a major book on the birds of Britain. Almost every bird artist in the British isles had been judged and disapproved of not having what was required to fabricate a breakthrough in field guides. In addition to encompassing all the accurate knowledge of the birds of Britain, the book must have the style and drama to appeal to those who had never chosen a field guide in their lives. The publishers had commenced to despair of ever discovering anyone with the graphic excitement they reckoned necessary, and the project had been almost relinquished when Ray appeared on the scene.

 

Deeply enthralled with the originality and incomparability of Ray's work, the publishers swiftly actualized that here was the artist for The Reader's Digest Book of British Birds. They enquired him how long he would require to paint the 230 full-colour portraits needed. The publishers believed that the project was brilliantly entailed as much as six years' work and had earlier thought to spread the commission among six artists, everyone to take a year. Although Ray had reached England with the idea of starting with his own book, the offer struck a nerve in the young colonists desiring to leave his mark. "I can do them all myself and in under a year!" he confidently declared. It was a colossal effort and abandoned him at the end of that year, ill, worn out and penniless.