Simon Combes was born in Shaftesbury, England, in 1940 and, at the age of six, moved with his family to an 800-acre farm in Kenya’s Great Rift Valley. At the age of 18, he took a job in western Kenya, managing a 2,000-acre farm with about 150 employees. The following year he was drafted, serving in the Kenya regiment. He then applied for and received a commission in the King’s African Rifles. Combes’ subsequent adventures included fighting in a guerrilla war with Somalia, leading Kenya’s new airborne unit (requiring a visit to Parachute School in England) and promotion to major at the tender age of 24. Of greater significance, perhaps, was the start of a new hobby. During moments of inactivity in the northern desert, Simon began to draw, and eventually paint, the local nomadic people and the landscape in which they lived. In 1969, he was persuaded to stage an exhibition of his work in Nairobi’s New Stanley Art Gallery. The show was a near sell-out and an idea about an alternate career began to form in Combes’ mind. Someone made the suggestion that he paint wildlife and the creative seed was sown. In 1974, Combes said farewell to the army, bought a small house on the outskirts of Nairobi and set up shop as a freelance artist. In the two decades since, he has achieved worldwide success, countless commissions and many prestigious awards—including the Society of Animal Artists’ Award of Excellence. He was chosen “Artist of the Year” for the 1994 Pacific Rim Wildlife Art Show. The success of his work has aided Combes as he seeks to raise awareness of wildlife conservation; he has made contributions and served on the councils of several conservation organizations. Combes is the author and artist of two critically-acclaimed books "Great Cats" and "An African Experience." Simon now lives in Africa, where he continues to research the animals he portrays and the environment in which they live.
“Painting the bears of Alaska offered me a new challenge—if I could get there,” says Simon. “Finally, my name was pulled in a lottery which allowed me to visit the McNeil River sanctuary to observe bears fishing on sockeye salmon. I spent five incredible days there and probably saw seventy different brown bears. They were all around us; some as close as five feet. Absolute Alaska is a sort of composite image of my observations at both the McNeil and the smaller Mikvik rivers in the sanctuary.”
“This is Tarangire, a national park in Tanzania and one of my most favorite places in East Africa,” Simon says. “It is midday under a cloudless, scorching sky. At an isolated waterhole under the shade of beautiful Acacia Tortilis trees, many different species of animals come to drink. All the creatures of the wild trudge daily through the hot, dusty, gray bush past giant baobab trees to quench their thirst at this oasis.”
Aconsumate storyteller, Combes shared this story, "Driving along a dusty track in Nakuru National Park at 7 o’clock one morning, out of the corner of my eye I caught a slight movement in the grass, a shape which broke the pattern of undergrowth some ten yards in. I pulled to a halt and we waited, trying not to be typical tourists, hoping the lions would accept and ignore our presence. After about 15 minutes, we were rewarded when the lioness rose and rubbed her face against the male’s side, then crouched back down in front of him, glancing invitingly over her shoulder and lashing her tail from side to side. He obliged, and with the accompaniment of ferocious growls, the act was over seconds later. The lioness rolled onto her back in an apparent display of satisfaction, the big male flopped down in the grass, his face resuming the look of extreme boredom."
"Three years ago, visiting Nakuru National Park near my home in Kenya," recalls Simon Combes. "I found a lion and lioness were having a passionate affair, when, suddenly, there was a mighty roar from an impatient call of a suitor-in-waiting only yards away. The result was Afterglow (a Greenwich Workshop release last year). Returning to the park earlier this year, I found the same pride with the big black-maned lion and his harem. The lioness from Afterglow was patiently enduring the boisterous attentions of two cubs. Again, a compelling subject to paint and an even more compelling title: Aftermath."