Responding to the beauty of nature

20 July 2013
Written by Sacha Kenny | Images by Sacha Kenny
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Ben Timmins paints photo-realistic imagery on natural wood-grain panels - images, as Sacha Kenny writes, beautifully interwoven with the ideals of symbolism


There is something about the work of award-winning New Zealand artist Ben Timmins that draws you in, takes you on a journey and makes you want to know more. Whether it’s his incredible attention to detail, understanding of light or connection to nature, there is an almost spiritual essence to Ben's work that is winning acclaim across the country.

Wellington-based Ben spent his childhood on a sheep farm near Dannevirke at the base of the Ruahine Ranges and it was at secondary school that he discovered a wonderful sense of ease in painting: “I guess I had a natural talent, without blowing my trumpet as such, but it’s true. I actually don’t know how I do it, I just know and it comes.  I have worked very hard to get to the point where I am today but from very early on I have innately understood the quality of light and use of texture as fundamental things.”

With his current work focusing mainly on nature, many including birds, Ben’s images are painted on panels of wood, allowing the grain to become part of the image, weaving in and out of the painting questioning reality and illusion. For Ben the wood grain adds a completely different dimension to a piece. “You get this strong juxtaposition where there is super-realistic paint work and people say 'ahh that’s so real', but it’s not - that’s the illusion. The real part is the wood, the real wood that it’s painted on. So there’s always this kind of conundrum going on and people don’t actually know it but their mind is making a connection. There are always a lot of subtleties going on within my work."

A fan of the Pre-Rapaelite art movement, whose work paid particular attention to detail, a luminous palette of bright colours and the ideals of romanticism, symbolism and the beauty of nature, Ben says he resonates with the movement's interest in the connection between emotions and the sublimity in untamed nature. "That’s what they were responding to in their work and that’s kind of what I respond to, this kind of transcendence within nature."

Also not unlike the Pre-Raphaelites, Ben's paintings are more than just a picture of something. For him his work includes a quality within that exudes a philosophical undertone:

"There’s a mystery, there’s something else going on and there is always this sublimity in the light which is there in nature that I think deserves to be highlighted."

The beauty in Ben’s work is obvious but for him it is the subtle connection to the environment, to the wood grain, to light and nature that is the real beauty.

In June this year Ben won the Wellington People's Choice Award 2013 Cliftons Art Prize for his piece 'Locus', oil paint on 200-year-old Japanese Kanji script. 

Using the pages of the Japanese Buddhist (Kanji) scripture, he found in a second-hand shop years ago, Ben thinly sliced the rice paper script into long strips and used the text as a tonal aesthetic value and background support to the foreground image of a heron in flight.

“The Kanji is like a sea of chopped up words or potential words, a sea of letters, within the image. This piece took hours and hours of cutting and pasting. I would get up at four in the morning and spend a couple of hours cutting and pasting – there’s something really nice about doing that, it was quite meditative, which I really enjoyed.” 

Each cut of the ancient script made with integrity, Ben approached this art piece with an inner knowledge and understanding gifted from years of meditation and spiritual work. “I didn't start this work as someone who didn’t understand the importance of the script, and honestly if the Buddha was alive I’m sure he’d say ‘listen this paper is actually just an illusion, a nothing’, it’s just our perception of time and putting an importance on it that changes that.”

With limitless possibilities for his work in the future, Ben is keen to produce a very large art work, an image that engulfs the viewer, pulls them in and is almost overpowering. “I want to do some really large work, stuff that just takes forever to complete and for people to look at it and be just like ‘man that is something incredible’.  To me, that’s what people should be saying when they look at art work – they shouldn’t be just breezing on by."

Ben is currently working on a number of pieces to be exhibited and for sale as part of the 2013 New Zealand Art Show, where he is a finalist in the Signature Award. Determined by a people's choice vote, Ben has been the recipient of this award for the past two consecutive years (2012 and 2011).

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Current exhibitions:

  • Conservation House, ground floor Department of Conversation (DOC), Manners Street, Wellington CBD, June 1st - July 23rd
  • New Zealand Art ShowTSB arena Wellington, July 25-28, 2013.
    Ben will be exhibiting as a feature artist at the 2013 New Zealand Art Show where he has won the Signature Award, determined by a people's choice vote, for two consecutive years (2012 and 2011).

Ben is available to paint commissions, please email or call to discuss theme, size and price.
email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
phone:(04) 905 9752   
mb: (027) 2262 817




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