Sudden death of larger-than-life artist shocks his family and the New Zealand art world.

In a fitting tribute to his life, one of Don Binney's last artworks was done to help fund a wildlife sanctuary.

Binney, who died at the weekend of an unexpected heart attack aged 72, was one of New Zealand's most well-known artists of nature.

"He wasn't at all well, but he insisted I take him to a point high above Shakespeare Bay, and he did studies till it got cold," recalled Barbara Speedy, his principal agent.

Binney, who lived in Parnell, had travelled to support Kaipupu Pt Sounds Wildlife Sanctuary, a community-run haven for native birds in Picton.


Illnesses had made painting outdoors increasingly difficult, so Binney took coloured pencils for portability.

He described the drawing process as "letting the light in".

Two drawings from the excursion were given to the sanctuary to help in fundraising.
"He always gave very, very generously," Ms Speedy said.

Binney was a vanguard of a growing environmental consciousness in the 1960s, when his art became the aesthetic for a movement.

His paintings of birds, in particular, became widely recognised.

"He almost always had an environmental message. It wasn't overt, but people got it. He created images that resonated with people at a very emotional level," she said.

"He reached out and connected with people from all walks of life."

One of Binney's more famous works, Kotare over the Ratana Church, was recently sold by private collector Dick Scott and the $270,000 proceeds donated to the Christchurch Earthquake Appeal.

Binney is survived by his second wife Phillipa and daughter Mary, who told the Herald on Sunday his death was a complete shock. "He was a larger-than-life person with a unique sense of humour. He loved nature and the west coast and he loved Auckland."

His funeral will be held on Friday at St Mary's Church in Parnell.