Don Binney an 'unforgettable character'

DON BINNEY: Friends and family have farewelled the artist and conservationist in Auckland.
DON BINNEY: Friends and family have farewelled the artist and conservationist in Auckland.

Don Binney was farewelled at St Mary's Church on Friday, the very place the artist and conservationist was baptised 72 years ago.

''He was a unique and unforgettable character,'' said old time friend Barry Margan who came to know Binney in the Bohemian world of 1970s Wellington.

There were parties, exhibitions and drinks at bars where you would not know if James K Baxter or Anthony Burgess would walk through the door.

''Don had a bit of an ego and was a performer. He loved to entertain.''

Known for his distinctive bird and landscape paintings, Binney died last Friday at the age of 73.

Whether it was recounting limericks around the campfire or regaling an audience with stories of the native bush he loved so much, Binney was always a gentleman.

''He was a passionate man who could see as clearly in black and white as he could in colour.''

Judy Hanbury said Binney's love of the environment was rooted in his boyhood. He saw his first shining cuckoo in Kohimarama and never lost the joy of hearing the first one of spring.

That love would feed into his conservation efforts that saw him engage with many trusts dedicated to protecting New Zealand's flora and fauna.

Binney would always take with him his favourite coloured pencils that he kept in an old sock to keep them safe.

Binney's agent Barbara Speedy said Binney always thought drawing was undervalued by collectors and critics. When he was asked to do more paintings he would reply: ''I am not a short order cook.''

Recently Speedy went to his studio where he unveiled one of his latest works - one that had taken 50 years to complete. It was a landscape drawing of Te Henga (Bethells Beach) on Auckland's west coast. It was in black and white and portrayed Sentinel Rock looking out to sea.

''I think that was like Don,'' Speedy said. ''It was like a book end to his artistic life.''

Dame Catherine Tizard said there were many sides to Binney.

''The conservationist, the artist, the good company - the dry funny Don Binney,'' she said. ''He left such a legacy more than any other artist in New Zealand in many, many ways.''

His ashes will be scattered at sea near Little Barrier Island.

Auckland Now