I have known John for about 20 years and during that time I have had the good fortune to be involved in a number of his ‘projects’. I’ve climbed rock faces and flown in helicopters with him, and we have shared a hut in the jungle. Browsing through John’s work gives an impression of the man behind the art. He is bright, engaging, fun and optimistic. When things have got rough in our adventures, we have always been able to see the bright side of the situation. John’s positive nature comes bursting out through his art; it is what makes his work so appealing.
Recently, John and I have been discussing the ‘Last Chance to Paint’ project. We all hear about endangered animals and plants, the bleaching and destruction of coral reefs, the problems with plastics, deforestation and climate change; but what does all this mean, and what can one individual do? The initial reaction may be ‘not much’; but if every single person did something, perhaps change could happen. These are huge issues; while many people know of the problems, simply knowing about them does not appear to be enough to motivate personal change. John’s idea is that, through his art, people around the world can have a personal connection to the issues facing the planet and thereby effect change.
‘Last Chance to Paint’ may also give people their last chance to discover, last chance to study, last chance to see, or last chance to interact with these endangered species and locations in our world. As John embarks on his ‘Last Chance to Paint’ adventure, some people will be fortunate enough to be able to travel with him, helping to record and support the project. However, many others will be able to go with John vicariously, through the use of digital tools and the internet. School students will be able to experience what it is like to be in the Amazon rainforest painting, for example, the golden lion tamarin monkey in its natural habitat, or to experience what life is like for the remaining El Molo tribal people eking out an existence on the banks of Lake Turkana in north-eastern Kenya. School classes will get involved with project work; whole schools can spend time with John as he works, asking questions and making personal connections with our fragile environment.
We cannot continue to turn a blind eye to the destruction of life on the planet. It is, perhaps, our duty to equip the next generation with both the tools and the motivation to be able to make a real difference, by giving schools and their students the chance to make personal and deep connections with the effects of modern living. I, for one, am looking forward once again to be travelling with John, either in person or via technology, to experience his adventures: who’s with me?
Dr David Ashe Research Fellow in Education and Learning Scientist