About Fish Art and Eric W. Heath

Our unique collection of marine life fine art has been made possible because of the visionary and tireless efforts of Wellington based artist, illustrator, model maker & cartoonist Eric W. Heath (retired).


Over three decades beginning in 1960 Eric researched and painted nearly 900 different marine creatures for a long-running series of books on New Zealand marine biodiversity.


Eric worked with leading ichthyologists of the day, in most cases working with live specimens, both on and off-shore, as well as running salt water aquariums at his home so as to be able to study the smaller species.


By far the largest single collection of marine natural history paintings by a single artist and also the first of their genre to be published in New Zealand for public consumption in full colour.


The result is a cache of heritage art that is without equal in New Zealand

For over 30 years Eric had kept nearly all of his original paintings in his possession.


In 2003 graphic and computer artist Keith Cagney realising the historical and heritage value of the paintings set about capturing high resolution copies of the entire collection and then with meticulous attention to detail compose them into the collections you can see here today.


Reproduced using archival quality Epson Ultrachrome K3 Pigment Ink Technology and using only the finest media, the visual impact of the compositions really has to be seen to be believed.


The assembling of so many quality paintings to form a new single image creates an artwork that is uniquely stunning.


Each fine art print montage is supplied with a separate species identification key with the common and scientific names of the species depicted.


Eric W. Heath - Biography 


Born in Wellington, New Zealand on 28 November 1923 Eric has been producing images for nearly all of his life.


Eric says he can barely remember a time when he has not had a pen, pencil or brush in his hand.


As a young lad Eric saw an advertisement for Brodie Mac (Australian cartoonist of the 1930s) 'Learn to draw by correspondence'. Eric sent off to Sydney for the lessons. It was worthwhile as, at Rongotai College in Wellington, he won a prize for best artist.


Eric's fascination with marine life and fish started early in life. As a child playing in the shallows at Evans Bay in Wellington in the 1930s Eric and his friends would hunt for bait fish using the long since forgotten art of spring fishing. This is where you take the coil spring from inside an old bed and stun the fish by throwing it at the school as they pass by and then collecting up the fish floating on the surface.


Eric's first job was a filing clerk at The Evening Post newspaper library. However this did not last long.

As New Zealand entered the Second World War Eric enlisted in the Air Force and was posted, with the RNZAF No. 6 Air Sea Rescue Catalina Squadron, to Halavo Bay Flying Base on the small island of Florida, north of Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands.


While in the Solomons, Eric responded to an advertisement from the Washington School of Art for another correspondence course of art training. They sent watercolour paints and paper. Eric painted what he saw at the time, a still life taken from inside the barracks, sent it back and was very encouraged when his first “assignment” was reproduced on the cover of the next issue of the Washington School of Art magazine.


After the war Eric returned to The Evening Post and trained as a photo-engraver before moving into freelance artwork for commercial studios and advertising agencies.


By the late 40s and early 50s Eric was a keen skin diver, a sport in its infancy at the time. Initially, using home made dive gear Eric's hunting ground was the southern coast of Wellington an area famous for its rich marine life biodiversity.


Eric and along with a group of other keen watermen formed The Wellington Underwater Club (WUC), which was officially established in 1951 and is thought to be the oldest dive club in New Zealand.


It was around this time Eric also began his long association with book illustrating. Eric has produced illustrations for over 100 commissioned or collaborative books. From the natural world, including fishes, birds, insects and ferns through to images of iconic ships and railway engines, many of which that played a notable part in the story of New Zealand.


In 1964 Eric was approached by The Dominion newspaper to provide artwork for the first issues of The Sunday Times and later cartoons for both papers.


He became the editorial cartoonist at The Dominion and produced five cartoons a week for 28 years.


In 1994 The New Zealand Cartoon Archive toured the country with an exhibition, The Daily Smile, covering his cartoons from 1965-1993 when Eric retired.


Over the years many of his original political cartoons were sold, given to charity or were gifted on request to protagonists of the subject matter and are now scattered far and wide around the globe. Eric donated the remainder to The New Zealand Cartoon Archive based at The National Library of New Zealand in the capital city, Wellington.


Eric’s scrapbook contains many formal requests for original works from several Prime Ministers, numerous MPs, the armed forces, the Duke of Edinburgh on behalf of H M, Walt Disney Archives, galleries and the list goes on.


In 2001 the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts invited Eric to be a guest artist with an exhibition of his artwork and model making. In 2003 he was elected an Artist Member of the Academy.


This collection is drawn from the legacy of marine life and fish art illustrations painted by Eric from a series of books beginning with New Zealand Sea Anglers Guide, first printed in 1960. The text is by two other early icons of the marine scene, Raymond Doogue who provided information on tackle and technique and J M Moreland ichthyologist from the Dominion Museum, Wellington who provided the biological information.


Sea Anglers Guide was the first book of its kind in New Zealand aimed at the recreational fisherman and amateur ichthyologist alike and was reprinted in 1961, 64, 66, 69, 73, 78 and, in 1982, a revised edition was published.


Marine Fishes of New Zealand with text by John Moreland was first published in 1967 and reprinted in 1968, 72, 73 and 1976 and Seashore Life of New Zealand with text by Richard (Dick) K Dell, Director of the Dominion Museum, Wellington, was published in 1971.


These books were the first of the type to feature New Zealand marine biodiversity with the marine life and fish artwork illustrations in full colour.


Mobil New Zealand Nature Series Seashore Life with text by Dr Richard K. Dell was first published in 1981 and reprinted in 1985. Dr Richard 'Dick' Dell was a director of the of the Colonial / Dominion / National Museum / Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa from 1966 - 1980.


Marine Fishes-I with text by John Moreland and Marine Fishes-II with text by Larry J Paul, also from the Mobil series, were both published in 1983.


Handbook of New Zealand Marine Fishes, a medium size format with text by Larry Paul and John Moreland was published in 1993.


1997 saw the release of the Reed New Zealand Nature Series Marine Fishes of New Zealand I and II. Reprinted in 2001, these books are still available and remain an excellent reference source.
Cumulatively Eric has produced an astounding volume of marine life and fish art images.


In its entirety, Eric has made a stupendous multimedia contribution of works that record and reflect many facets of life, society and the natural and material worlds of New Zealand in his time. Eric's work now forms a valuable and important part of the culture and heritage of New Zealand.