I have located a large space in Broome North Western Australia where I shall produce a new body of work. The day temperature is usually above 35 C inside the studio so it is hot and occasionally it is cooking! I don't mind sweating too much as long as the studio is stable, functional and cyclone proof. This cyclone season five storms are expected to hit the area. Besides the possibility of 250 kilometre per hour winds, massive rains and storm surges I must also be aware of poisonous jellyfish in the ocean and large estuary crocodiles that sometimes cruise by the beach. Last week one was spotted at the popular Town Beach. This makes jumping in the water to cool off really not the best option. Mango and coconut trees are just outside the studio door with the accompanying flocks of fruit bats flapping about at night and the geckos singing their little tunes as they hunt insects. There has been almost no rain for the past two years so everyone is waiting for a good wet season. Broome-time is the local term used to describe the relaxed pace of the town but for myself I plan a busy and intense period of studio time.
I move about on a bright orange bicycle fittingly branded with the name "Gypsy". Peddling over red pindan covered roads and paths I am focussed on the art in my head as a dozen paintings are aching to be realized. I also attempt to be in one place for a change, which is no simple matter for me. It is my fifth visit to this fairly remote desert / tropical Kimberly region so it is familiar to a degree but also rather exotic compared to the more populated and temperate south.
In late October a day trip was made to the Bidyadanga aboriginal community just south of Broome, which was interesting to see a group of artists working away painting patterns, and stories that are much older than the nation of Australia. In fact the themes and marks used in most aboriginal artwork is 40,000 years older than even the notion of Australia.
My tenth TRAVAILOGUE exhibition was held at SHORT STREET GALLERY here in the Chinatown sector of Broome. This gallery shows aboriginal artists from the Kimberly areas that were nomadic many years ago but now adapt to a very different manner of living. It is a rough transition period for most. Strangely I exhibit work made on the road that depicts restlessness and asceticism with a neo-nomadic flavour. Wether my art or some elements of my images last a few eons like some aboriginal symbols is very unclear at this stage. 40,000 years is made up of a lot of weekends! Before I think about a time in the distant future it is probably best to first try to understand this concept of Broome-time.
There are whales out there in the water along with sharks, dolphins, rays, large turtles, jellyfish, plenty of fish and soon a lot of surfers who will invade the Island next week. School holidays have arrived in this part of the world and North Stradbroke Island is a good place to escape school and city life in general. I contemplate Island life and the possibility of working here for an extended period. Sydney was also considered but its cost of living makes everything just a little bit more complicated. At this point of time I think it is certainly best to locate myself in a small town to minimize costs and big city distractions but where is best?. A studio in the tropical northern part of Australia seems to be the answer as I have found hot and humid climates rather stimulating and productive studio environments. I must admit that icy polar studios are also to my liking. It seems I am still very climatically challenged or should I say just confused? Thanks to an Australia Council grant I will be able to focus on a series of large paintings so I hunt for a spacious and stable studio. The Visual Arts and Craft Strategy, an initiative of the Australian, State and Territory Governments, have assisted this project of mine.
The GO COME BACK? Brisbane exhibition opened on a warm Tuesday evening in the suburb of Woolloongabba at the Bellas Milani Gallery. Six large paintings along with a series of nine tiny Polar garden landscapes were shown.
I am travelling with Carolina Furque a photographer from Argentina who slowly learns English, Australian slang and the strange, mostly relaxed Australian way of life. As always Brisbane has been both interesting and relaxing to spend a little time in. After the exhibition we shall fly to Darwin for a few days. This I look forward to, as it has been a few years since my last visit to the Northern Territory. I have fond memories of this small capital city that I first visited in 1984. Besides observing the growth of Darwin I will make preparations for my eleventh TRAVAILOGUE exhibition to be held at the 24HR ART contemporary art space next March. So it is time to head up to the tropics where the demanding humidity of the build-up season is just about to build-up.
I head north now to Queensland where I shall recover from Melbourne’s winter festivities, which are usually a funky mixture of football and beer as well as coffee and culture. An exhibition in Brisbane lures me northwards but on the way I shall drop into Sydney and perhaps also stay in a small town on the east coast of Australia to break the journey. The fruitful chaos of my dislocated life seems to flow along as I weave here and there together to make elsewhere cosy.
This movement of mine often places me in the position of a voyeur or a witness. Making only enough contact to interact in a minimal way but somehow I do manage to befriend people as I travel. Juggling long periods of time alone with noisy social hoopla is tricky but necessary for balance.
In many circles I play a fuzzy social role which I do not see as a troublesome role but how fuzzy do I want to be and to whom besides myself do I wish to display clarity and depth? Meeting thousands of people around the world is fine but who are the close friends? Where are they? How often do they need me around and how often do I need them? If I stay still I presume I would not be asking this question so I plan to attempt to set up a studio in Australia in one place for longer than the usual three month time span I usually operate in. Lets hope I can manage it.
The idea that some artists are outsiders from the norms of society may explain this comfort that I find in wandering about the planet. Perhaps this is the easy way to describe my lifestyle. I am indeed, outside the home as I do not have a home and I always move. Strange locations are excellent studios to me and getting to these places is always an experience. My artworks could be the maps that get me pleasantly lost or does my artwork help to locate me in this inexplicable thing called the world? Where are the philosophical geographers when you need one?
To be always intransit or on the way to somewhere else can make life very soft and light. Too light and you just float away into the ether of otherness over there someplace or other which is really not such a bad feeling at all.
Where am I? Oh yes…in Sydney on my way to Brisbane and then Broome it seems. …I really must find a studio..
I could have stayed in one place and discovered that the world is a harsh, beautiful and perplexing place but by travelling you can confirm without a doubt that these qualities are both abundant and universal. A larger view of the planet paradoxically shrinks the globe and situates everyone in the same boat paddling through the same waters. Admittedly sometimes the water is hot and wild other times its freezing and flat and other times it is something else.
I now work in a fresh aired and relaxing country environment on the outskirts of Melbourne. Large noisy cockatoos fly above searching for food and especially water. There is a drought on this continent so water becomes more and more scarce as it does across the entire planet. The night sky is clear and velvet-like and the big smoke of Melbourne is in reach for big city fun and galore. I have been catching up with a number of friends in Melbourne and this usually involves a lot of laughs and the loss of a few brain cells. Well worth it I believe.
Besides rekindling friendships and family events I also delve into a new body of work. A primitive form of embroidery that I laboriously stitch together embellishes the paintings on linen that I currently work on. These works will be shown in Brisbane later this year. I too will head north with my artwork to the warmer climes. Before this trip a small TRAVAILOGUE exhibition will be held in Melbourne. This will be the ninth show of this type of work done on the road, small scale, all painted and stitched on medical bandage. A kind of travelogue of images that trace part of the journey I undertook in 2004/05. Below was my primary routing over this period.
Melbourne --> Sydney --> Bangkok --> Taipei --> Hong Kong --> Bangkok --> Helsinki --> Murmansk --> Franz Josef Land --> North Pole --> Murmansk --> Helsinki --> Hong Kong --> Bangkok --> Phnom Penh --> Siem Reap --> Angkor Wat --> Bangkok --> Amman --> Dead Sea --> Petra --> Amman --> Amsterdam --> Berlin --> Amsterdam --> Madrid --> Buenos Aires --> Ushuaia --> South Shetland Islands --> Antarctic Peninsula --> Ushuaia --> Buenos Aires --> Mendoza --> Santiago --> Auckland --> Sydney --> Melbourne.
A garage has been commandeered as a country studio space and very functional it is proving to be. Each new work recalls various experiences and views collected during the past eighteen months. A Khmer haystack, a Russian arctic ghost town, a Jordanian gate made from a salvaged oil tanker, the tip of a short range ballistic missile from Taiwan, peaks and vales from Antarctica and other bits of oddness.
Collecting experiences on my travels and translating them into paintings is what keeps me busy. This rabid lust I have for more exotic observations is fodder for my artwork so after collecting the raw material it is then time for the tricky process of whittling down the ideas and images to construct art from this jumble of excitement. A venture that is pleasurable most of the time.
After my visit to the tourist side of Antarctica I returned to Buenos Aires for a wander around the rather gaudy La Boca sector of this fine capital city. The many colourful tin homes made a strong visual contrast to the minimal palette of the Antarctic Peninsula. Returning to busy city life with its push and shove, human order, bus fumes and frantic fun was different but not too bad an experience. Argentina is famous for its meat and indeed the BBQ or Asado is a high art form here but it is the little empanadas that I adore. These savoury pastry snacks come in a variety of shapes with a variety of fillings. All over South America they can be found and I eat them by the dozen. Meat, chicken, cheese, ham, olives, eggs, spinach, sultanas, tomato whatever is in them they are delicious any time and keep them coming Por favor.
I am back to a summer mode now after those rather wobbly and chilly voyages across the Drake Passage. The Antarctic Peninsula that creeps up towards Patagonia like a plant searching for some warm sunshine is really an extension of the Andes. I now look out the window and see that mountain range, nearby sits Cerro Aconcagua at 6962 m. It is the tallest peak in the Americas. I am in the province of Mendoza where most of the viticulture action occurs. I planted myself in La Consulta c/o the excellent Bodega Aconquija that sits 1100 meters above sea level and makes a seriously good Malbec red wine. The Mountains act as a topographical weather barrier as well as a stunning backdrop to the vineyards. Very little rain here, lots of sun and fresh water from the melting snow make it excellent for grapes except for the occasional hailstorm. It's a very pretty part of the world.
One afternoon I was picnicking with a friend below these snow-capped mountains by a channel of melted snow under Pine, Gum and deciduous trees on thick green grass watching things move. Before siesta I watched the insect population plunder our crumbs and busy themselves with miniscule missions of urgency. Thinking back to the icy and rocky terrains of Antarctica where life is somewhat lacking I realized that I was now sitting on a layer of living blanket. Organisms galore were beneath me, all alive and all hungry for life. It was not only my friend and I who wanted to picnic. It was everything around us. Sadly there was only one bottle of tinto vino to share with the plethora of organic life I had just acknowledged. The Ice in Antarctica I had befriended in some kind of conceptual way but here in the temperate climes the party of life is very think indeed. Sadly I must leave this continent and flutter across the Pacific.
It seems I will be spending the rest of 2005 in Australia, as there are people and places to see. It is time to set up a studio on the outskirts of Melbourne as I have plenty of new work to make. Future exhibitions planned during 2005 are as follows -
April. 1 - 24
Plimsoll Gallery. Hobart.
Tasmania. Australia. Antarctic group show of Australian artists.
June 25 - July
William Mora Galleries. Melbourne.
Jul. 29 - Oct 2
Breaking the Ice - Re-visioning Antarctica.
Adam Art Gallery. Victoria Uni. Wellington.
New Zealand. International group show of Antarctic work.
Sept. 27 - Oct 15
Go come back?
Bellas-Milani Gallery. Brisbane. Qlds. Australia.
Oct - November
Short St. Gallery. Broome.
I don't get seasick not even in the Drake Passage when we chugged through 13 metre high waves caused by the southern oceans cyclonic winds. I do get an illness quite the opposite, which could be called still sickness. This pleasant dis-ease is basically itchy feet multiplied by many kilometres. One day I will try to estimate the amount of kilometres I have travelled, as I am sure it will be a surprising figure. I move all the time it seems even on this little ship I have moved in and out of 4 cabins. Admittedly moving a few grubby clothes, art equipment and some personal belongings is not the same as moving a full household. I have read that moving is extremely stressful but if this is so I should be some kind of blithering neurotic, wobbling mess of tension. Last time I looked in the mirror I was a tad shabby and had a little bit of cabin fever but I didn't look that bad.
It has so far been a very wobbly voyage on the M.V. Lyubov Orlova but this was expected. My faith in the Russian crew is large and this 100 metre long ice class ship is a tough little vessel. Made in 1976 in Yugoslavia with a crew of 56 and maximum speed of 14 knots the Orlova is named after a famous Russian actress. During the windows of OK weather we have managed to visit the South Shetland Islands landing at Telefon and Whalers Bay on the bleak and actively volcanic Deception Is. Even managed to wallow in Antarctic waters that were warmed by the thermal activity. Then on to Fort Lockroy on Weincke Is, Petermann Island, Neko Harbour, Paulet Island, Cuverville Island, Half Moon Island and some hours were spent cruising about the stunning Paradise Bay.
Historic sites, grand scenery, icebergs, penguins, seals, whales, sea birds, scientists and tourists are all to be seen in this part of Antarctica. There is even a Post office surrounded by thousands of penguins.
I have turned cabin 607 into an active studio with about 60 little oil stick paintings scattered about the cabin attempting to dry. Works on paper and a series of new Travailogue works are all cluttering up this space that is my floating home for a few weeks.
It is a very exotic part of the world to be in. I am situated right now at latitude 64 deg. South and longitude 62 west or somewhere in the Bransfield Strait.
I have been accused of being addicted to the exotic which is true as the exotic is usually described as …strikingly unusual, often colourful and suggesting distant Countries and unfamiliar cultures. It also suggests the unknown. Not the normal or nearby. Which all sounds fine by me and certainly not a bad thing to be addicted to.
This fondness for the exotic or the Other has another side. In foreign lands I am rendered exotic or maybe just culturally barbaric by the locals that is if there are any locals to make comment on my behaviour. This is usually a pleasant feeling, as I become special or really just a strange stranger. This predicament is refreshing as it comes with a slice of freedom. By placing yourself outside your usual habitat, customs, laws and tastes you are able to reinvent yourself somewhat. This is why people holiday and this is why many expatriates cannot return home easily.
The final voyage is at an end as the lights of Ushuaia can now be seen. Last memories of the voyage were a soaking wet and rather rough zodiac landing at the Russian Bellingshausen station on King George Island where I swallowed a wave-load of freezing salt water about the same time that I was thinking about visiting the tropical bits of Australia…
The first month of 2005 was spent waiting for snow, completing some artworks, and preparing to head far south once again. Most of this was done in a studio I was able to sub-rent at W.G. Plein in the old west sector of Amsterdam. This complex was once a hospital but for some years now it has been used as artist studio spaces and assorted offices.
January felt a bit like a holiday period but it was not as I worked many days. In fact to differentiate between holiday and work is extremely hard for me. Visiting dozens of cities and landscapes each year as I work on the road gives me little time to relax on a deck chair reading a good book. What a poor, poor fellow I hear you say! I always seem to be keeping myself busy with some art or travel related chore.
Unlike the traveling salesperson that normally has a home to return to I have not. No counter-point to balance and compare time away with time at home puts me in a position where I could be seen as living the life of someone with a never-ending job or someone on a non-stop vacation.
It is brilliant and extremely lucky that I am able to see many lands but if I paint, plan, prepare and participate in exhibitions as I travel then I really am not on holiday.
I force myself to cease working and relax but this really only happens during the New years period or when I am sick but even then I am a little busy with my "job" as an artist. What kind of job is being an artist? Its obviously more a passion or calling than a method to gather money. Lets just call it a very odd job.
I guess going to a bar/pub/café and getting a bit sozzled is my holiday. If I get more than a bit sozzled it is in fact a holiday from myself. This is escapist behaviour, a little like an extreme holiday whereby you leave yourself behind thinking (or should I say not thinking.) that it may be more fun to holiday without yourself.
Speaking of drinks …I had a small farewell gathering in studio14 on the 30th January which was a pleasant goodbye to Europe party and now it is back to the journey. The journey is work and the work is the journey.
Hello South America. A few days in Buenos Aires was more than good as it is a city that reeks of style but a sort of old fashioned style not found elsewhere. I found it very likable. It feels good to be back in a summer climate but it is a brief blanket of warmth as the good ship M.V. Orlova is heading to Ushuaia and I must board her very soon. Before I do I shall stroll around Ushuaia as I do like the colourful dwellings that make up this cute town located at the end of the world.
Ushuaia has become the gateway town for the growing Antarctic tourist industry. Each year more and more ships move between Tierra del Fuego and the Antarctic Peninsula creating a fairly large tourist industry. I will be operating as Artist in residence on three Quark tours heading down to Antarctica. I will also occasionally be wearing my Polar/Hawaiian shirt on the deck of the M.V. Orlova which is even more silly than it sounds.