Des Helmore

Last updated
Des Helmore
Des Helmore, 2011.jpg
Des Helmore in 2011
Born1940 (age 7879)
Residence Hastings, New Zealand
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 COLE Carabidae Lecanomerus sharpi.png
Drawing of Lecanomerus sharpi by Helmore, made in 2004 for the New Zealand Arthropod Collection

Desmond W. Helmore (born 1940) 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.

New Zealand Arthropod Collection collection of terrestrial invertebrates held by Landcare Research in Auckland, New Zealand

The New Zealand Arthropod Collection is a collection of terrestrial invertebrates held by Maanaki Whenua – Landcare Research in Auckland, New Zealand. It specialises in the taxonomy and identification of indigenous and exotic invertebrate species in New Zealand.


Life and education

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

Helmore was born in Takapau, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand, and lived there on a farm until age 12. [1] Interested in drawing since childhood, he attended Christ's College in Christchurch, and then the Ilam School of Fine Arts at the University of Canterbury from 1959 to 1962, where he was taught by Rudi Gopas, Russell Clark, and Bill Sutton. [1] [2] 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." [3] 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 from 1967 to 1969, Helmore returned to New Zealand and lived in Auckland for over 40 years. [2] [4] He moved to Hastings in 2018. [4]

Takapau Rural community in New Zealand

Takapau is a small rural community in the Central Hawkes Bay in New Zealand. It is located 20 kilometres west of Waipukurau, off State Highway 2, and has a population of more than 500.

Hawkes Bay Region region on the east coast of New Zealands North Island

Hawke's Bay Region is a region of New Zealand on the east coast of the North Island. It is recognised on the world stage for its award-winning wines. Hawke's Bay Regional Council sits in the city of Napier. It derives from Hawke Bay which was named by Captain James Cook in honour of Admiral Edward Hawke who decisively defeated the French at the Battle of Quiberon Bay in 1759.

Christs College, Christchurch independent, Anglican, secondary, day and boarding school for boys, located in the central city of Christchurch, New Zealand

Christ's College, Christchurch is an independent, Anglican, secondary, day and boarding school for boys, located in the city centre of Christchurch, New Zealand.


From 1967 to 1969 Helmore worked as a geographical illustrator at University College London where he learnt the technical aspects of creating maps and illustrations for publication. Upon returning to New Zealand in 1970 he was employed as an entomological illustrator at Canterbury Museum, Christchurch, working alongside the painter Tony Fomison. [4] [5] From 1971 to 1975 he worked as a graphic artist and graphic designer for NZBC Television and TV1 News in Christchurch, creating lettering, illustrations, and title sequences. [2]

UCL is a public research university located in London, United Kingdom. It is a constituent college of the federal University of London, and is the third largest university in the United Kingdom by total enrolment, and the largest by postgraduate enrolment.

Canterbury Museum, Christchurch museum

The Canterbury Museum is a museum located in the central city of Christchurch, New Zealand, in the city's Cultural Precinct. The museum was established in 1867 with Julius von Haast – whose collection formed its core – as its first director. The building is registered as a "Historic Place – Category I " by Heritage New Zealand.

Tony Fomison New Zealand painter

Tony Fomison was a notable artist in New Zealand. He was an important post-war visual artist in the country and influenced New Zealand art by incorporating elements of narrative and myth into contemporary art.

In June 1975 Helmore 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. [6] The illustrations were created using a stereomicroscope with a camera lucida, and were drawn two to three times larger than final print size on illustration board with technical pens (or sometimes on scraperboard). [2]

The Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR) is a now-defunct government science agency in New Zealand, founded in 1926 and broken into Crown Research Institutes in 1992.

Landcare Research New Zealand research institute

Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research is one of New Zealand's Crown Research Institutes. The focus of the research at this company is the environment, biodiversity, and sustainability.

<i>Camera lucida</i> optical device used as a drawing aid by artists

A camera lucida is an optical device used as a drawing aid by artists.

His drawings have been described as "magnificent" [7] and "exquisitely executed" [8] by entomologists. 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." [9]

Sir Charles Alexander Fleming, KBE, FRS, FRSNZ, FRAOU was a New Zealand geologist, ornithologist, avian palaeontologist and environmentalist. He spent the last twenty years of his life studying the evolution and systematics of New Zealand cicadas.

Arthur Smith (1916–1991) was a British natural history illustrator who specialised in entomology. He was born in the village of Eastburn, between Skipton and Keighley in Yorkshire, UK.

Amedeo John Engel Terzi Italian entomologist

Amedeo John Engel Terzi was an Italian illustrator and entomologist specialising in Diptera, the true flies.

Helmoreus , a genus of weevils, is named in his honour, "in recognition of his contribution to New Zealand entomology as a scientific illustrator". [10]

<i>Helmoreus</i> genus of insects

Helmoreus is a genus of fungus weevil which was circumscribed by the New Zealand entomologist Beverley Holloway in 1982. The generic name honors the scientific illustrator Des Helmore. It is found in New Zealand, Australia, and New Caledonia. It is in the tribe Stenocerini.

Weevil superfamily of insects

Weevils are certain beetles, namely the ones belonging to the superfamily Curculionoidea. They are usually small, less than 6 mm (0.24 in), and herbivorous. About 97,000 species of weevils are known. They belong to several families, with most of them in the family Curculionidae. Some other beetles, although not closely related, bear the name "weevil", such as the biscuit weevil, which belongs to the family Ptinidae.


Helmore and his art, taken in 2018 in his Hastings home Des Helmore at home, cropped.jpg
Helmore and his art, taken in 2018 in his Hastings home

Since leaving art school Helmore has continued painting. His work has been described by Dick Frizzell as having a "strangely dense atmosphere" [3] and critic T.J. McNamara has referred to its "lonely vertical shapes" and "dim and strange" light. [11] 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 in 1964 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. [11] Helmore has exhibited since 1990 in solo and group shows at the Auckland galleries Lopdell House, Claybrook, Anna Bibby, Jane Sanders Art, and NKB. He has also exhibited at Ramp Gallery in Hamilton, the Hastings City Art Gallery, and, in 2017, at Spa_ce Gallery, Napier. [4]

Reviewing his 2011 solo exhibition at Jane Sanders Art, for The New Zealand Herald , T.J. McNamara said: [12]

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, [13] the University of Canterbury [4] , the Hocken Library, the Canterbury Society of Arts, and Hawke's Bay Art Gallery. [4]


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  1. 1 2 3 4 Mackenzie, Kyla (Spring 2017). "Des Helmore: Extreme Precision". Art New Zealand. 163: 68–71.
  2. 1 2 3 4 Helmore, Desmond (1982). Drawings of New Zealand Insects. Auckland: Entomological Society of New Zealand.
  3. 1 2 Frizzell, Dick (2011). It's all about the image. Auckland: Random House. p. 174. ISBN   9781869797072.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 "Des Helmore b. 1940". Jane Sanders Art Agent. Retrieved 26 December 2018.
  5. Wilson, Tim (November 1989). "Drawn to Insects". North and South: 19.
  6. "Des Helmore". nkb Gallery. Retrieved 19 October 2018.
  7. Zwick, Peter (1983). "Helmore, D.W. (1982). Drawings of New Zealand Insects". Aquatic Insects. 5 (3): 166.
  8. Ball, G.E. (1983). "Book Reviews". Quaestiones Entomologicae. 19 (3, 4): 486–488.
  9. Harris, A. C. (1984). "Book review: Drawings of New Zealand insects". New Zealand Journal of Zoology. 11: 109. doi:10.1080/03014223.1984.10428235.
  10. Holloway, B.A. (1982). "Anthribidae (Insecta: Coleoptera)" (PDF). Fauna of New Zealand. 3: 66. Retrieved 19 October 2018.
  11. 1 2 McNamara, T. J. (10 March 1994). "Fine Work Resurrected". New Zealand Herald.
  12. McNamara, T.J. (10 December 2011). "Enigmatic explorations on show". New Zealand Herald.
  13. "Solar Receptor, Cass". Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū. Retrieved 19 October 2018.