Steven Clark and his family didn't really know what he was going to do with his life.
On the autism spectrum, and unable to read or write, Steven's future was unclear.
Then one day when he was 15, he thought he might give painting a go.
"One Sunday morning up in Auckland I said 'right, I'm going to do something a bit different, and I went and got a canvas and some paints."
The result - a finely detailed landscape painting of Mt Taranaki produced completely from Steven's apparently photographic memory - was stunning. And just like that, the path ahead revealed itself.
Now, aged 50, Steven is an exceptional artist who last year sold 28 paintings of a variety of landscape scenes and on Saturday begins a six-week exhibition of 18 of his artworks, mostly landscapes and seascapes. Titled Welcome to My World, the exhibition runs at Taupō Museum until March 22.
His technique is unusual - his friend Barry Shiels, who owns several Steven Clark paintings, says Steven paints "like a dot matrix printer", starting at the top of the canvas and methodically working his way down to the bottom - but it creates astoundingly detailed and lifelike works.
One of Steven's favourite paintings, that he has kept for himself and which has pride of place in his immaculate lounge, is of moonlight on the sea in Hawaii. It is so realistic it looks like a photograph and so evocative you can almost hear the waves, smell the salt and feel the ozone popping in the air. Painted 12 years ago from Steven's memory of a trip to Hawaii in 1986, it is much admired. But Steven will never sell this one.
Steven's landscape subjects range from all over New Zealand, as well as a few overseas scenes, and he has several of Fiordland and the West Coast around his home. He says one of his favourite landscape subjects to paint is Mt Tarawera - "I've done lots of Tarawera, partly it's because of the shape" and he generally works in acrylics, although he occasionally paints in watercolours.
Steven also frequently paints boats and more lately has begun experimenting with other types of painting. He has made two copies of Sir Thomas Lawrence's famous painting The Red Boy but in his own style. He has a small but intricately detailed painting of the Northland kauri tree Tane Mahuta done entirely in dots, which took him about two months. And in his studio he has two outer space paintings, one of them depicting the planet Saturn hurtling through the solar system.
"It's the first time I've done that. I'm quite pleased with it."
Steven says in the past he has painted for three or four hours every day, beginning early in the morning, although his work rate dropped when he first moved to Taupō around three years ago. Because his paintings are so detailed, they can take him up to a month to produce. He is also a member of the Active Arts Tuesday painters group and although he has a studio at home, he paints at Active Arts twice a week ("better lighting"), where he enjoys painting alongside others, as long as they do not talk to him and do not watch him paint.
When it comes to style, Steven is firmly in the realism camp. He likes his paintings to look like the thing they are depicting.
"I'm just self-taught, no help. I don't go to art school, it's all nonsense. Some paintings, you don't know what you're looking at half the time."
Steven last exhibited at Taupō Museum in 1997 and in a neat bit of symmetry, former Taupō district mayor Joan Williamson, who opened Steven's exhibition then, will open his 2021 exhibition as well. All the artworks are for sale.