'One cannot resist the lure of Africa.' These words of Rudyard Kipling's have a particular resonance for the British-born artist Sophie Walbeoffe. And not just because Kipling was godfather to Walbeoffe's mother. Africa has been the presiding spirit of her life and art.
A keen traveller, she first visited Kenya in her twenties, in 1988, with Operation Raleigh, Prince Charles' adventure project for young people. She never returned to live in England. Her time since then has been spent in both East Africa and the Middle East. (She lived for two years in Jerusalem, and returns there often.)
Both locations have proved rich painting grounds. (Walbeoffe had trained in England, first at Wimbledon School of Art, and then - under Cecil Collins - at the Central School of Art, London.)
The great theme of Walbeoffe's art is wild animals in their natural habitat. She spent three formative years painting in Amboseli National Park, guided by Dr Cynthia Moss, the distinguished scholar of elephant behaviour. It was in this landscape, against the towering backdrop of ice-capped Kilimanjaro, that Walbeoffe developed her enduring fascination with birdlife - observing, sketching and painting it. Pelicans, flamingos, ibis, waders, scarlet-breasted bee-eaters, and golden weaver birds have all inspired her art through their distinctive forms, their varied beauty, and their unbounded sense of freedom.
'When I work en plein air, I paint what I see very fast, usually with both hands. When in the studio, I paint what I feel and remember, more slowly. It is astonishing what you can remember about an African landscape, when you have looked at it at length. You remember the smell of Africa, the colour of the bush, the light on the animals, the dust of their movement, the changing colours of dawn and dusk. These recollections bring my paintings to life.'
Walbeoffe's work has been exhibited in London, Kenya and Dubai and is held in numerous important collections, including Paul Allen’s Vulcan Foundation in Seattle, The Qatari Royal Family and the East African Visual Arts Trust Collection.