Monday August 03 2020



Village Art & Literature

Colours of Africa

Posted on November 27 2017 at 11:13:18 0 comments


Sally Oldaker meets an artist whose work reflects his roots.

He may have made his home in the Midlands, but Satvinder Gill’s artwork recalls the joy of his childhood in rural Africa as well as reflecting his great love for its wildlife and landscapes.

Satvinder was born in Dar-es-Salaam in Tanzania. His uncles were hunters and his dad worked on the railways, meaning the family got to travel all around Africa.

They then moved to Kenya, where Satvinder enjoyed what he describes as a “Born Free lifestyle”. While exploring his surroundings, he started sketching, and it slowly evolved from a habit to a hobby.

“We moved to England in 1975 and I started looking into the possibility of doing something with my art, and finally I went to art college in Kensington.”

However, he fell out with his tutors, who he says wanted to “put a full stop” on his work. “They wanted to categorise me and tell me what I could and couldn’t do – this is a big problem in the art world. They should help you use and improve your talent, not package you into a neat little box. That is not art.”

Therefore, Satvinder is largely self-taught. His hero is the late wildlife artist and conservationist David Shepherd: “As a kid, I would spend hours looking at his artwork and figuring out how it was achieved.”

One of his proudest moments was receiving a young artists’ award from Shepherd in 1996.

He exhibited in London, Birmingham and Northern Ireland, and started to get his work recognised.

He realises that sales of his art are not going to be enough for him to give up the day job (as a fabricator for the MoD in the aviation sector) but says his love for his work is more than enough to keep him going.

Satvinder has lived in Tardebigge for a couple of years now, moving from Webheath to be closer to his mum.

He originally came to the Midlands from London because his brother had a house in Walkwood, and then met his wife, Caroline – they’ve now been together for 30 years.

“I couldn’t go back to London now. This is home, and it’s much more peaceful. Most of my family live up here now.”

However, he goes back to visit his uncles in Africa every couple of years. “I go off in a Land Cruiser, do some sketches and take photos, as well as having a holiday. Then I come home and start putting my paintings together.”

He works largely from photos: “Lots of artists claim they painted their wildlife pictures on the spot, but that’s just not possible – there’s no way an elephant is going to stand there for four hours while you paint it! It has to be done with photos as well as preliminary sketches.

“Some more famous artists do get sponsorship so that they can go on longer trips to see wildlife, whereas people like me just go when we can.

“I do it because I love it, and it’s a way of celebrating Africa and also putting something back – I pay for two rangers who look after elephants in Kenya.

“It’s terrible what’s happening to the wildlife there now. I’d love my grandkids to be able to see a bull elephant one day, but it’s unlikely that will happen.”

Satvinder is not afraid to get close to his subjects – for instance, he came within 20 to 30 feet of the gorilla in the picture opposite – but usually has to use a long-range camera lens.

He says he can spend up to 40 hours on one painting, depending on his mood. “I tend to half-finish a piece and then leave it for a while, to come back at it with fresh eyes later.”

He used to use watercolours but now sticks mainly to pastels and oils, as they can be manipulated more than watercolour.

“Pastels are one of the nicest things to depict Africa with, because they give that dusty African look even without really intending to! Dust falls on the page and sits there; you just have to seal it.

“With oils you have to layer them more. The results are beautiful but you need longer drying times in between layers.

“I really enjoy building up a picture – when it starts to come together you can see that it will all be worth it when it’s finished.”

Satvinder used to have a gallery at Tardebigge Court, but now does most sales via his website; his work is particularly popular in China, Japan and Saudi Arabia.

You can view and buy it at – the name means “Colours of Africa”.

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