Nicolas Dillon was born in Blenheim, New Zealand in 1966. He has painted and drawn from an early age and is self-taught. His first exhibition aged 18 was a sellout. Since then he has pursued a career as an artist depicting birds and wildlife.

He has exhibited at galleries and museums throughout the world. In the U.S.A his work has been shown at the prestigious "Birds in Art" exhibition at The Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum in Wasau, Wisconsin.

He has also exhibited work with the Society of Wildlife Artists in London. During the late '80s he lived in England and 1991 he held a large one-man exhibition at The Wildlife Art Gallery in Lavenham, Suffolk. Nic painting on the Kaikoura coast

In recent years he has for the most part been resident in Marlborough New Zealand. Here he continues to paint the birds and light that have fascinated him from an early age.
Nicolas can be visited at his studio by appointment. Please contact him by the following means:


Phone: +64 3 5729 462

The Studio
1985Recent Paintings
Bealey Gallery, Christchurch
1987Bird Paintings
Peppertree Restaurant, Blenheim
1988Society of Wildlife Artists
The Mall Galleries, London, UK
 Autumn Exhibition
Wildlife Art Gallery, Lavenham, England
1989Recent Paintings
Bealey Gallery, Christchurch
 Paintings and Drawings
Grove Mill Wines, Blenheim
 Birds in Art
Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum
Wausau, Wisconsin, U.S.A
1991Paintings and Drawings
Wildlife Art Gallery, Lavenham, England
1992Birds in Art
Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum
Wausau, Wisconsin, U.S.A
1997Wild in Nature
Doorwerth Castle, The Netherlands
1998Recent paintings
Bealey Gallery, Christchurch
1999Paintings and Drawings
Attic Gallery, Redcliffs, Christchurch
2001Group exhibition, realist paintings
Studio Of Contemporary Art, Auckland
2002Gourmet Province Art Award
Marlborough Gallery, Blenheim
2004Millennium Public Art Gallery
 Judith Anderson Gallery
Hawkes Bay
2005The Studio
2006Recent Paintings
George Perry Gallery, Tauranga
2007The Studio
2008Brooke Gifford Gallery

A Rare Kiwi Bird Painter

The Press | Wednesday, 30 April 2008

CHRISTOPHER MOORE talks to Nicolas Dillon, a painter passionate about birds.

Nicolas Dillon: "Most of the field trips tend to be around Marlborough - I tend to work close at hand, often virtually at my back door. The more you paint a place, the more you know it."

A sprightly tui perches on a flowering kowhai, a trio of alert black-billed gulls survey the incoming tide. A group of grave spoonbills tread the shallow waters of a West Coast inlet.

Unknown to them, they were being closely observed by a pair of keen eyes. Not a predator, but a man with a spotting telescope, a sketchpad and pencil, crouching low in the back-country tussock or on some windswept coastal foreshore, watching, waiting, noting what will be the first steps in the creation of a unique portrait.

Back in his Marlborough studio, Nicolas Dillon will transform the initial field sketches of the birds into a finished painting, bathing his subjects in light and texture. It's a process he's celebrated for several decades.

As a young boy growing up in the Marlborough hills, he engaged what would become a lifelong passion for bird painting. He held his first exhibition when he was aged 18. Today, in New Zealand, Dillon is as rare as some of his subjects.

Put simply, Nicolas Dillon is the painter of birds, one of the country's few professional ornithological artists. A New Zealander with an international profile. His paintings have been exhibited in the United States and Britain. This week, his new show opened at Christchurch's Brooke Gifford Gallery.

"The effect is one of artiface, though well-observed artiface," art writer Andrew Paul Wood writes after viewing the works.

"Dillon successfully blends the two often mutually exclusive positions of scientific observer and artistic aesthete. The emphasis in these paintings is not so much on the personal expression or theoretical concept but a deliberate and traditional courting of historical artistic values and the sentimental elation many people still feel about nature."

Dillon doesn't appear as the sentimental man. There's a strong streak of pragmatism drawn from his farming roots, a innate curiosity about the world around him and an equally strong determination to record his subject's beauty, grace and character.

"While I was growing up, Raymond Ching was the first bird painter I became aware of. I'm still puzzled about why I followed in his footsteps. A bird painter must have the eye of a scientist and the soul of an artist. This is a tough discipline for anyone to follow," he says.

While his parents made him aware of the environment around him, and while other family members displayed strong streaks of creativity, Dillon was largely self-taught. Contacting Ching, by then working in Britain, he asked the older artist's advice.

"He replied suggesting that rather than attending art school, I should simply go away and 'do it'. I knew that I simply wanted to paint."

In the late 1980s, Dillon travelled to Britain "to paint, study, visit as many art museums and see and meet as many painters as I could".

By 1991, he was exhibiting widely, including a one-man exhibition at the Wildlife Gallery in Lavenham, Suffolk.

"My painting has slowly evolved from the early illustrative work where the birds were shown against a white background with a branch and leaves and an emphasis on plumage, to my current work which is about light and setting the birds in their environment. Light is a crucial thing for most painters – the critical factor which often seems to take precedence.

"To a degree, I become an ornithologist at the same time through the amount of study that's involved and the amount of hours that are spent in the wild observing. You get to know a lot about birds, and you come across birds that there aren't a lot of."

Dillon says its important to have people painting the environment, not as a record, but more to do with the emotional contact we have with the natural world.

We are dealing with human emotions rather than just the beauty of the birds.

In New Zealand, as we grow older as a country, we are holding on to the things that make us different from other countries, the things that make us unique.

Dillon works in the field as much as possible, spending hours observing, pencil, paper and occasionally watercolour box in hand.

"Watercolours tend to be illustrative. Most of my work today is in oil," he adds.

"Most of the field trips tend to be around Marlborough – I tend to work close at hand, often virtually at my back door. The more you paint a place, the more you know it."

Similarly, Dillon never tires of watching and painting familiar species like the ubiquitous gulls, which often reveal some hidden side of their nature.

"While I'm studying a bird, I'm also looking for the moment when a personality, a character to show which can be translated into the sketchbook. When I look at birds, I'm looking for expressions, something which can decipher their character.

"The painting of the spoonbills, for example, was like exploring layers of evolution to get in touch with ancient spirits."

While the fascination with bird painting remains, would Dillon ever consider another field of painting.

"Perhaps painting human portraits is not that far away. Getting into the soul of living beings constantly fascinates me."