A picnic at 3000 metres under the impressive Punta Negra Mountain was a good spot to watch clouds and birds and also not bad for a wallow in the chilly river after a grunt of a hike up to the snow line.
2000 metres below the picnic spot there are some small white owls living by the house. I hear them hooting and doing owl type business. Occasionally I see these very pretty birds around the grape vines, as well as a tiny fireball bird that’s red colouring is seriously fluorescent. Speaking of red…Malbec red is still my favourite drop of wine here but recently I tried a fantastic red wine called Tannat which was produced in Northern Argentina but is much more common in Uruguay. Most delicious!
This time of year the worry for the wine producers of high altitude regions like La Consulta are the occasional fast and furious hailstorms that are flung off the nearby mountains. A short 10-minute hail shower can ruin whole plantations of grapes or other fruits. Nets are used to protect some plants but the expense is too large to literally cover all crops. Two other methods are used here to battle these tempests. One is cloud busting with salt bombs via cannons or planes the other is an older technique that involves an old man climbing onto his roof and incanting some ancient spell that magically asks the icy storms to move away. I presume there is a lot of traditional praying as well to all sorts of deities.
The festive season is here I believe as there are some trees wrapped in shiny golden paper and images of baby Jesus litter or adorn many buildings. Buenos Aires will be the location of my celebrations. Fireworks are de rigueur in the Argentinean capital to lighten up the change of year. My plan is to enjoy a bottle of quality red vino and devour a slab of BBQ-ed cow with Carolina and my Dutch friend Otto, after a slow dinner I will murder myself ever so slowly with some Indonesian clove cigarettes. A cunning plan!
The past 2 months have been country living, far away from any urban chaos. Big skies, hailstorms, tractors cruising by, farm workers labouring, a pleasant lack of television and radio, fruit trees producing all sorts of treats and farm dogs barking. The dogs also operate as mobile homes for ticks and other miniature beasts. Which is actually what I do with bacterial beasts. I am a massive microbe mover, a vehicle that glides through the air and across the earth on which miniscule bugs travel. A little like a cruise ship full of tourist’s, well not really.
Off I go once again on the MV Orlova an ice strengthened ship that sails to the Falkland Is/Malvinas, South Georgia Island and then to the Antarctic Peninsula. I become a little creature on the big ocean, off to see the big white continent. Upon arrival I notice how minuscule I am. Watching the big bergs, big hills, big waves and big clouds help’s to picture the sublime and pleasantly enables me to imagine myself as less than nothing. This I wish to feel once again.
I landed in Santiago Chile after a flight over the Pacific and a number of time zones that zonked me out for a few days. Nothing that a few empanada snacks and vino could not repair! To adjust to South American mode I also tried a seafood dish in the wonderful central market designed by Eiffel (yes THAT tower) called Piure which is a gang of messy red molluscs tasting like iodine, scallops and the mysterious ocean. After the seafood lunch and finally retrieving my delayed baggage then there was a seven-hour drive over the Andes, which was most spectacular. A few days after arrival in Argentina a small group exhibition was held in Mendoza of artists who had collaborated together as couples. The small gallery run by the very charming Tano Arcidiacono usually shows photographic works but this show displayed drawing, sewing, photography, painting, and sculpture all bonding together under the title of ALGO CONTIGO.
Settling into Argentinean time has been my first chore here in the small village of La Consulta in Uco Valley. Today it is hot, dusty and there is no shortage of BBQ-ed meat to be had. Snow-capped mountains, vineyards and cactus are outside the window. Pretty views and a quiet country ambience surround me.
Argentineans could be described as “ meat-packing literati” a term adapted from a song dealing with the topic of the Malvinas/Falkland islands war. Not a very amusing part of recent history but I find the term amusing enough to use here as a way of expressing the Argentinean passion for both BBQ-ed meat and the written word.
The past few days I removed a very large toad and a small bird from inside the house. I see these creatures as locals visiting to see the new stranger in town. Another type of stranger I have encountered here is Gauchito Gil. Senor Gil is a popularised saint-like figure of a Gaucho (an Argentinean cowboy) with a Mate teacup who has a liking for the colour red. This semi religious figure is believed to offer help to those that place gifts at his numerous roadside shrines. These constructions grow over time by the continual addition of personal belongings. A Christian/pagan miss-mash of rustic installation art is the end result, decorating country roads with bright red coloured hope.
A short residency has been completed at the Victorian Tapestry Workshop in Melbourne. During the three weeks spent at the workshop a series of small mixed media works were created with the help of Kate Durham and others. This busy workshop has been translating images into Tapestries for 30 years and certainly has a well-established, comfortable and creative ambience throughout the building. The residency was finally capped off with a short work in progress exhibition called NON EXISTENT ISLANDS. The work attempted to navigate through some Antarctic themes, thoughts on dislocation and sloppy cartography.
Besides this project I have been preparing to leave Australia, finishing a number of large paintings, and enjoying the extremely warm Melbourne Spring. In fact so warm that it feels like a summer, all the signs of a serious drought are here reminding us that Australia is basically a very large desert island.
A long and tricky year is ahead of me. The year will be meshed together by airline tickets and a lot of art. A short return to Antarctica, solo exhibitions in three countries, setting up studios in half a dozen locations, and perhaps a bit of exploration will all keep me on the go. To begin the journey I jump on a plane just like over a billion people do each year. Zooming in and out of a bunch of airports, each time swimming through the strange process of being processed by people and machines that collect and read data. Displaying the passport at borders almost seems old fashioned. Presenting a small formal notebook with a great amount of ink stamps and my picture in it, which shows to the world my name, where and when I was born, where I have been and not much else. A great deal more information is wanted as the concept of Nationality becomes ever more fuzzy and people as always stay humanly fuzzy. By that I mean unusual, complicated, hilarious, insane, kind, desperate, lovesick, criminal, devout, drunk and the rest. I look forward to long haul travelling again and fears of terror (actual or imagined) bother me in a very minor way. Travel has and always will be a risk as is staying still.
I fly to Santiago Chile then drive over the Andes with Carolina. That means my next studio will be located in a small Asado BBQ room on the outskirts of La Consulta, which is near Mendoza in the wine production region of Argentina. I can’t imagine what I will be drinking there as I watch the grapes growing and hear the mountain winds blowing out the window.
The Shinju festival of Broome came and went, as usual displaying the multi cultural makeup of this little tropical village. Pearl meat was eaten, Japanese drummers were heard, rodeos and horse races held and bush folk sauntered about. A Chinese dragon whirled around, Aboriginal art adorned many walls, exotic food was smelt, beer was swilled and I stupidly tried to spend as much time as possible in the studio with my art.
I packed up the Broome studio with a strong plan to return and do another stint in the future. It was a very productive time in the large and very hot shed where I managed to complete 20 large paintings on linen as well as two series of small works. A small open studio party was held on the 8th September, which gave Broome locals an opportunity to see what I have been up to. It was a hot night with ample beverages. I always find that the body enjoys the tropics and I know I will miss this climate and vegetation. The tropics at times seems rather gothic with clear dark nights making the stars huge and plentiful, noisy big fruit bats swoop about and squawk like bonsai vampires occasionally getting barbequed in electrical high wires, grotty guard dogs bark at anything that moves except their owners, strange activity is heard in the bush, things that you cannot see can kill you in the sea and the mangroves are a little spooky to those that have not grown up nearby them. A huge moon rises over the mudflats where spiky plants pierce the dank goo. Fires rage on the horizon with smoke turning the sunsets blood red. Large lizards can be spotted in gardens lurking about and hunting large insects. Electrical storms fry your emotions and it’s too hot to think logical at times. The heat was building up as I rolled up the large works, stored paint jars, boxed a few things and considered my next few months.
Sydney is next port of call as my thirteenth TRAVAILOGUE exhibition opened at Damien Minton Gallery on the 19th September running until the 7th October. The same opening evening AntarcticArt was screened on ABC TV so it was a highly public day compared to all the quiet studio time in Broome. Now I must begin to head southwards.
Many pleasant evenings were spent at the Gekko Lounge listening to "Broomese" live music during the Broome Music and Art Festival over the past few months. This was a great way to break up the studio time as was having the odd beverage on a verandah, in gardens and at art openings primarily at the excellent Short St Gallery in Broome's Chinatown. A short visit to Derby was also a fine break as I managed to go Terra-sailing over the mudflats as well as playing lawn bowls during a small insect plague in this town known for its incredible Boab trees.
Back in June I found myself in a map shop for a few days looking after a massive array of topographical and satellite maps which was interesting and almost seemed like I was in my studio surrounded by fantastic two dimensional images of landscapes. I also map landscape but in a rather different manner to cartography. I have always been drawn to cartography as it helps us to navigate through the physical world. Art could be seen as a tool to navigate through the more tricky terrain of metaphysical space or am I getting off the track here? The titles of current work will testify to my obvious need to locate myself someplace in the world.
STILL - SICKNESS(TOGO)BIG DARK SPICE MARKET(INDIA)
UNCONSCIOUS AND INDEPENDENT(PERU)257 CROSSES / MT.EREBUS(ROSS ISLAND, ANTARCTICA)
DOMESTIC PRAYER FLAG(PORTUGAL)BLOOD AND PUS COUP D'ETAT(BURKINA FASSO)
ROOTED(AUSTRALIA)ST. PILLOW / LAND OF SMILES(THAILAND)
NON EXISTENT ISLANDS / LOST CARTOGRAPHY(SOUTHERN OCEAN)TACTILE TRANSACTION / SEXY BUSINESS(PHILLIPINES)
IMMERSION SUIT AND TIE(SOUTHERN OCEAN)BROWNOUT IN GOLDENLAND WITH SPIES(MYANMAR/BURMA)
SIGNAGE. 90 N(ARCTIC)UNDER A BRIDGE / HOMAGE TO MUNCH(GERMANY)
IMPEDIMENTA / BAGGAGE
(VIETNAM)LONG LIQUID WINTER(FINLAND)
SELF- CONTAINER(McMURDO, ANTARCTICA)
I head over to the East coast for a number of reasons this month. A documentary about my time in the studio at Davis Station, Antarctica has been completed and is to be aired nationally on ABC TV. AntarcticArt (Everysomewherever) was filmed by Matthew Rooke over the austral summer of 2003/04 and has now been edited and polished. A preview of the film will be held in a Melbourne bar and no doubt other indoor wintry functions will occur in my hometown as I breeze through on my way to Sydney.
The actual date for the national screening of AntarcticArt is the 19th September 22.00 on a Tuesdays night I believe so those interested who are nearby a TV can see how one artist creates in such an environment.
I must pack the bag; find my socks and fly.
ANTARCTICART - EVERYSOMEWHEREVER
DVD copies of the program are available at $25, postage included (within Aust).
Direct all enquiries to email@example.com
Darwin was warm, and wet and sticky and sometimes hot. The end of the Wet season usually means some cyclonic activity nearby to keep the city moist, and also on its toes. I put up my 12th TRAVAILOGUE exhibition at 24HR ART in Parap which was received by the Darwin art crowd on a Friday evening with build up clouds in the night sky. Beer was consumed and later in the evening karaoke was performed with the usual fluid gusto needed. I luckily was not in the mood to embarrass humanity by singing pop songs to a video screen with my unique voice.
I flew to Broome and now I sink back into a very serious studio mode. That means 10 hours a day painting and stitching to hopefully complete the dozen or so large works that were begun last year. I may not report too often over the coming months as I hope to go a little underground, minimize my social life and focus on the paintings. During this period I will also have some planning to do. Meaning a visit to Perth, an old friends 50th birthday party in Melbourne, a group show in Argentina with Carolina Furque, a small exhibition in Sydney to arrange in September, another voyage to Antarctica next January, my third solo exhibition in Paris next year as well as another Amsterdam show and the possible relocation of my studio to Argentina at the end of the year. What to do? What to do?
My diet consists of Asian style soups, iced coffee, some fruit, cigarettes and litres of water each day. Pickled pearl shell meat was a treat the other day that was most delicious washed down with a cup of green tea. Soon I will make my popular green paw paw salad and most likely drink some beer while watching large lizards wander around the garden before I dive back into the studio.
I flew a few days early to New Zealand to await an Icebreaker as this gave me time to poke around Christchurch, visit Picton on the Marlborough Sound and prepare once again for the Ice. On the waterfront in Picton sits the very charming Le Café run by Peter from Switzerland. Peter looked after me for a few days forcing me to consume green lipped mussels, wild goat stew, very good New Zealand wine and gorgeous Kiwi scenery as I waited for the Kapitan Khlebnikov to dock in Littleton. This is the eighth trip where my studio is a small cabin that bobs, sways and rolls its way over polar seas. I plan to work on two small series of paintings. One stitched and painted group of Travailogues, the other will be oilstick studies of landscapes / icescapes / seascapes. A mini TRAVAILOGUE exhibition will be held at the end of the voyage.
The Kapitan Khlebnikov is a Finnish built, Russian owned 132 Meter long icebreaker that can hit a top cruising speed of 15 knots on open water. The ship carries approximately 100 passengers along with 100 crew/staff members and has been working in polar waters since its launch in 1982. Once again I am the artist in residence onboard, this time in cabin 819 and this time heading to the Ross sea region of Antarctica. Besides painting, I kept me busy with the following.
On Campbell Island which is 660 Kms south of New Zealand I had a small argument with a large 350 kilo Hooker Sea Lion. The beast decided that I was not to pass along the track heading up to Mt Lyall. Waving, shouting and stomping only created more barking and the display of more teeth. These creatures are known for their aggressive behaviour, which made the tag ‘lion’ very fitting. Cape Hallett was a grand spot with a massive population of Adelie penguins hopping about with their fat fluffy and very hungry chicks. We had sunshine and no wind for the entire day so the gods were certainly happy with us.
Terra Nova bay is where the stylish Italian station named Mario Zucchelli sits, here very neat Italian scientists spend the summer months then leave to run the station remotely from Rome. Located on Ross Island is the large USA McMurdo station that is really a town of 1200 people and over the hill the very green Kiwi Scott Station sits. The debate onboard after visiting a number of stations was “ How much science is really needed?” I believe we need a lot as long as data is not duplicated and the Antarctic treaty upheld by all those on the Ice.
We explored various explorer huts, Discovery hut on McMurdo Sound, Shackleton’s hut at Cape Royds and the Terra Nova hut at Cape Evans all on Ross Island as well as Borchgrevinks hut at Cape Adare, which is surrounded by more than 500,000 Adelie penguins. These huts are historically of great interest as they are the first dwellings made by humans on this continent. Literally frozen in time for a century.
The KK went as far south as any sea vessel since the Fram in 1911 making it to the latitude of 78.40.871 South, which is in the Bay of Whales. Impressed? The Icescapes were very impressive but numbers on GPS navigation instruments are really just numbers. A helicopter landing on the Ross Ice Shelf one sunny midnight was a bizarre treat as was icebreaking through stretches of pack ice in Mc Murdo sound. It truly was a grand trip with a diverse bunch of people, a great deal happened and often it was incredible, impressive or some other superlative. I will attempt to enlarge an idea or two gleaned on this voyage with the desire to create some major works in the Broome studio.
The most impressive sight was the very alive volcano Mt Erberus that puffed smoke into the clear blue sky as we visited sites around its home on Ross Is. I also puffed smoke from an Indonesian clove cigarette out on the stern of the ship one evening. I watched icebergs and thought about other lands. The perfumed smoke swirled around me as we crunched through sea ice. Is the Ice really in my blood I wondered? The smell of the tropical spice was rich and highly alien at this latitude. Soon I will be back near the equator probably missing the Ice.
One final recollection was a zodiac landing on a tiny dot of a rock situated at 74.54 S 164.39 E. We were there to see the remnants of a camp where a few men spent a year in a snow cave eating penguins to survive and dreaming about eating anything but penguins. They had a BAD year. Inexpressible Island is the name of this tiny lump of rock and ice. The islands name could be suitable for the entire Antarctic continent as it often is extremely troublesome to describe. In terms of brutal weather it is troublesome for sure but also tricky to describe in a positive way as every grand view bankrupts language. It is inexpressible but I will attempt to paint some elements of the far south by melding views with experience, memories with stories, colours with textures, the sublime with trinkets. Wish me luck.
2005 has now pasted but the summer festive season mood is still around. My Broome studio has been shut down temporarily as I travelled back to the East coast to eat, drink and say hello to 2006 with family and friends.
The route from Broome began in a four wheel drive heading south towing a boat through an extremely harsh and dry landscape. Watching a number of willy willys twirl about above the rather beautiful desert terrain and massive road trains bolt along the road past us was all good. In the car we kept amused and awake with nonsensical chitchat about small goods from across the world. Mikey the car owner did over 2000 kilometres of driving through the villages/towns of Sandfire, Port Headland, Hamersley Ranges, Newman, Meekatharra, Cue, Mount Magnet, Paynes Find, Wubin and New Norcia finally arriving in the pretty city of Perth. In the capital city of Western Australia I visited the impressive Kerry Stokes art collection, various other galleries and I strolled through the Kings park to appreciate the wonderful Western Australian flora. The kangaroo paw shrubs stood out with their unusual forms and velvet texture.
Next was a flight to Sydney to arrange a future exhibition and drink some Argentinean red wine before I flew to Melbourne just in time for a very odd Xmas party. This annual function that has been going for 2 decades selects a different theme each year to entertain or confuse the guests. This year the theme was TOGA- A -GO GO. What ever that means. It was a grand and messy party as always. New Years eve was celebrated on Phillip Island near Melbourne with vermouth, beach swimming, a late dinner and a big selection of old friends. I had to have a little lie down on the floor at 4.30 am so that means I had ample fun.
Preparations for another voyage to Antarctica is next on my list of chores. The Kapitan Khlebnikov heads south from New Zealand on the twentieth of January and I need to be onboard. This trip to the Ross Sea will last about one month after which I will be plonked in Tasmania where I will post my next intransit, so until then…