Des Helmore

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Des Helmore
Desmond W. Helmore

1940 (age 7778)
Nationality New Zealand
Alma mater Ilam School of Fine Arts, Christchurch
  • Artist
  • Illustrator
Known for New Zealand Arthropod Collection
Drawing of Lecanomerus sharpi by Helmore, made in 2004 for the New Zealand Arthropod Collection

Desmond W. Helmore (born 1940), known as Des, is a New Zealand artist and illustrator, known both for his fine art and for his scientific work depicting insects, not least illustrating the New Zealand Arthropod Collection. One of the country's most noted and prolific biological illustrators, over 1000 of his illustrations of insects were published in research papers from 1976 to 2006.


Life and education

Helmore was born in Takapau, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand, and lived there on a farm until age 12. [1] He attended the Ilam School of Fine Arts at the University of Canterbury from 1959 to 1962, and was taught by Rudi Gopas, Russell Clark, and Bill Sutton. [1] His fellow students at Ilam included Dick Frizzell, Tony Fomison, and John Panting. In his survey of New Zealand art, Frizzell described Helmore as someone who "seemed to have already graduated from somewhere else. All that quiet abstract pondering. I [Frizzell] couldn't believe he knew what he was doing, because I certainly didn't." [2] At this time Helmore, through beatnik culture, became interested in Zen Buddhism and Taoism. [1] He graduated in 1963 with a Diploma of Fine Arts (Hons). After working in London for several years, Helmore returned to New Zealand and lived in Auckland. [3]

A 1979 Des Helmore drawing of the weevil Helmoreus sharpi ; the genus was named after him.


From 1967 to 1969 Helmore worked as a geographical illustrator at University College London where he learnt the technical aspects of illustrating for publication. Upon returning to New Zealand he was employed as an entomological illustrator at Canterbury Museum, Christchurch, [4] and from 1970 to 1975 as a graphic artist for NZBC Television and TV1 News in Christchurch. [3]

In June 1975 he moved to Auckland and worked as an entomological illustrator for the Systematics Section of Entomology Division, Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, until 1992, then for Invertebrate Systematics at Landcare Research from 1992 to 2006. Over these years he created over 1000 insect illustrations for scientific publications, particularly the Fauna of New Zealand series. [5] The scientist Sir Charles Fleming wrote, "Des Helmore's drawings supply the need for pictures of entire insects felt by many New Zealand amateurs and interdisciplinary students, to an artistic standard few can hope to emulate." [4] The entomologist Anthony Harris said, "Desmond Helmore's superb illustrations rank with the very best in the field – such as those of Arthur Smith, A. J. E. Terzi, and T. Nagatani." [6]

Helmoreus , a genus of weevils, is named in his honour, "in recognition of his contribution to New Zealand entomology as a scientific illustrator". [7]


Since leaving art school Helmore has continued painting. His work has been descibed by Dick Frizzell as having a "strangely dense atmosphere" [2] and critic T.J. McNamara has referred to its "lonely vertical shapes" and "dim and strange" light. [8] After being influenced by constructivism and cubism in the 1960s, he began painting depictions of rural landscapes after about 1985. Since 2000 his work has focussed on depictions of urban environments. [1] His first solo show was at the Hawke’s Bay Art Gallery, Napier, followed in 1966 by a solo exhibition at the Manawatu Art Gallery (now Te Manawa) in Palmerston North. [8] Helmore has exhibited since 1990 in solo and group shows at the Auckland galleries Lopdell House, Claybrook, Anna Bibby, Jane Sanders Art, NKB, and in 2017 in Space Gallery, Napier. [4]

Reviewing his 2011 solo exhibition at Jane Sanders Art, for The New Zealand Herald , T.J. McNamara said: [9]

He is an artist who cultivates enigma. He takes ordinary places, landscapes and buildings and combines them into paintings that are truly strange yet curiously familiar... Helmore is an old-fashioned painter. His draughtsmanship is impeccable as witnessed by his accurate scientific illustrations but there is no virtuoso flourish of drawing in his paintings: his forms are simple and clear. Rather his virtuosity is shown in his handling of paint. Skies and surfaces are deftly brushed in and the handling works in with his individual palette of dark, shadowy colour to give tension and life to the work. The paintings in this exhibition have an extra energetic factor. Forms shatter into the sky and bits and pieces scatter about. Sometimes this makes the structure too open but generally the works are held together by strong compositions of angles, checks and balances... These are fine paintings, carefully made, evoking wastelands and familiar territories. They evoke emotions but with no subtext of social comment.

His work is in a number of collections, including those of Christchurch Art Gallery, [10] the University of Canterbury [4] and Hawke's Bay Art Gallery. [4]



  1. 1 2 3 4 Mackenzie, Kyla (Spring 2017). "Des Helmore: Extreme Precision". Art New Zealand. 163: 68–71.
  2. 1 2 Frizzell, Dick (2011). It's all about the image. Auckland: Random House. p. 174. ISBN   9781869797072.
  3. 1 2 Helmore, Desmond (1982). Drawings of New Zealand Insects. Auckland: Entomological Society of New Zealand.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 "Des Helmore b. 1940". Jane Sanders Art Agent. Retrieved 19 October 2018.
  5. "Des Helmore". nkb Gallery. Retrieved 19 October 2018.
  6. Harris, A. C. (1984). "Book review: Drawings of New Zealand insects". New Zealand Journal of Zoology. 11: 109. doi:10.1080/03014223.1984.10428235.
  7. Holloway, B.A. (1982). "Anthribidae (Insecta: Coleoptera)" (PDF). Fauna of New Zealand. 3: 66. Retrieved 19 October 2018.
  8. 1 2 McNamara, T. J. (10 March 1994). "Fine Work Resurrected". New Zealand Herald.
  9. McNamara, T.J. (10 December 2011). "Enigmatic explorations on show". New Zealand Herald.
  10. "Solar Receptor, Cass". Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū. Retrieved 19 October 2018.