I returned to Australia as summer kicked in and elections loomed. After many hours of travelling, lining up in far too many lines, being identified, photographed, searched and processed I felt like a floppy piece of cargo as I strolled out of Melbourne airport. The usual smells and sights reminded me that Australia is not a bad place at all even if the immigration laws are awful. It is a relaxed, cosmopolitan and spacious land with its fair share of negatives as well. The well-worn Melbourne to Sydney to Brisbane track I once again followed, finally showing a series of work called HUT FEVER at Bellas-Milani Gallery (www.bellasmilanigallery.com).
This East coast route also meant plenty of hi and bye drinks with plenty of family and plenty of friends in plenty of towns. My liver has indeed worked overtime and the peak of the festive season is yet to arrive. I did hole up in a half renovated Brisbane home to avoid socializing for a bit in November, stitching away on a large work that was born in Tokyo. A work that utilizes 'sashiko' stitched folk designs and a jellyfish. I have seen many types of jellyfish, been stung by small toxic tentacles and eaten many of these fascinating creatures over the years so I thought it was time to depict one.
The drought in Australia is over in some regions but continual need for water never ends. This is a global problem on a huge scale. I hope the brand new government implements long-term plans that address this problem as well implementing broad and fair policies across all issues. I see myself as a pessimist with a grin on my face so I can only hope.
I now have a base in Argentina. Maybe it's a home under the Andes in a small village called La Consulta. For me to stay still is an odd feeling as I believe that nothing is stable and everything changes so I find it slightly unreal or even misguided to pretend that things are stable. But I must admit; it is a comforting thought and one I should probably explore. Those that chase security and stability, reproduce, buy a house and collect possessions simply do what humans like and need to do. I acknowledge this as basically protection against chaos, change and the unknown. This is totally understandable behavior which I may even embrace one day.
I therefore head back to my Argentinean base where my Argentinean partner awaits me with a bottle of good Malbec. My asado studio needs to be reactivated as I have plenty of new paintings to create and I may even stay in one place longer that a few months for a change
My fourth trip to Cambodia and things seemed to generally improve bit by bit for the population. More money about, more NGO people than you can shake a stick at and a lot more motorbikes and cars. Cambodia still has a slight edge to it that lures many characters both good and evil as well as many planeloads of tourists each day. One slightly evil experience was hearing the karaoke Khmer version of the song Hotel California screamed into a microphone at a restaurant! Equally wrong was the décor and North Korean cultural show at the Pyongyang restaurant; included violin solo, fan dance and dinky electric piano tunes. Phnom Penh as always cooks up some strange entertainment. I guess I added to this by presenting my Antarctic artist talk at Meta-house also my 3rd exhibition at the Foreign Correspondents Club in Phnom Penh(FCCC). Hopefully in some way I helped stimulate the tiny but growing Khmer art world.
MOISTURE was the group title for the body of work displayed at the highly likable FCC bar. I loosely based these paintings on the lifeblood of the Kingdom of Cambodia. Rivers and that necessary element of life. Water. We are mostly made of water. We need it, we are it. Simply put – if it flows enough so do we. Water or moisture I found in the humid air, wet season rain, the sundowner drinks and of course in the Tonle Sap, Bassac and Mekong rivers viewed from bars along Sisowath Quay. By watching, considering and consuming these liquids as well as controlling the moisture of paint I created 35 small works during this stint in Cambodia. Besides the art I was there for the un-western Khmer Buddhist attitude to life and for the tropical climate, which in some ways balances out my time spent in Polar Regions. I live through variable seasons like anyone does but a little more extreme and a lot more unstructured. Luckily the body is very adaptable. This wet season the dengue fever virus invaded many bodies in Phnom Penh, a beast of a bug that can flatten you out for a week or even kill you. Whilst avoiding mosquitos I indulged in a lazy afternoon or two listening to ghekkos bark and watching them hunt large insects under noisy overhead fans.
It is September now so I must be in Hong Kong. A fabulous city that still seems driven by the accumulation of money and little else. It has a cosmopolitan buzz about it, flavoured with roast duck that is rather addictive. My fourth exhibition here FINDING YOURSELF LOST is to be held in John Battens new art space sitting 22 stories high with a fabulous view of HK. From this vantage point perhaps I shall actually find myself lost or at least find something. Hong Kong’s incredible skyline is always a treat to see. At night many of the skyscrapers are adorned with fancy lighting, which is accidentally a massive show of public art. People scamper below these giant metal and concrete sculptures in a horizontal manner as well as vertically in elevators searching for dim sum, friends, money, cigars, love, incense, luck, fun and no doubt a few other bits and pieces to survive life in a city that has everything but clean air. The exhibition opens on 5th Oct and runs until 10th Nov. www.johnbattengallery.com. My travels with Carolina have led us to the Special Administrative Region of Macau. A massive percentage of the cities 3 million inhabitants live off gambling and various forms of tourist “recreation”. We honeymoon here surrounded by massive Casino temples that are so shiny and kitsch it is difficult to decide whether they are sick jokes to accommodate losers or stunning architectural statements. Luckily there are also museums and galleries to visit, plenty of Macanese food to eat and charming colonial relics scattered about the city thanks to Portuguese traders who arrived in China way back in 1510. Saude!!!
I watched the grapes vines change from green to yellow to orange and then to brown. With the arrival of dormancy the leaves fall off and the cold nights got colder. Before leaving Argentina a trip to the lovely city of Catamarca was made. The mountain scenery of this region is dotted with cactii (Cactaceae). The largest plant is called Cardon Grande or Echinopsis Terscheckii and grows to a height of 7 metres. These spiky soft trees survive with little water and every now and then surprisingly spurt out a brilliant flower. These plants reminded me of people who operate in a similar way. I have met extremely tough characters on my travels with numerous defences but who are actually tender and able to create beauty. The jump between the horror that humans create and the beauty is always astonishing.
I am now far from cacti terrain, sitting here in an Amsterdam attic near the popular Vondel park where I saw a very Dutch contraption. It was a vehicle that combined cycling and drinking. A small bar on a platform with enough bar stools for 8 drinkers and one barman placed on wheels. The bar/bike was propelled rapidly around the park by a system of pedals pushed by the drinkers. I could not work out if it was stupid or fun.
Amsterdam is its usual jolly self as summer is on the doorstep, people zoom about on bicycles on their way to play or work. My fourth exhibition at Suzanne Biederberg gallery in the pretty Jordaan sector of town kicked off with art, drinks and friends from a number of European cities. Holiday from oneself was the shows title and this was also my desire the next day due to a little bit too much celebrating. Dutch herrings were required for breakfast to repair the damage.
I found myself in Cairo for a week due to a surprise invitation from a French diplomat. A hot noisy city constructed from new kitsch, old crumbling buildings, very ancient monuments and about 20 million people. A lack of rain helps to create a blanket of dust which colours the city a dirty sand tone except the colourful veils worn for tradition or fashion. People seem to survive by not sleeping, using car horns and a direct form of humour to ease their frustrations and poverty.
At night by the Nile when things cool down and the gaudy restaurant boats cruise along the river the chaos all blends together and seems ok. The mess of the mega-city becomes fluid like flowing Arabic script. Also observed was Queen Maatkare’s mummified baboon, the bent pyramid at Dashur and the delicious sweet apple flavoured smoke wafting from a thousand and one sheesha (water pipes).
It looks like Tokyo out the window today. A few days pit stop here to fulfil a strong desire from my youth to visit Japan. This city of millions (people and money) is packed with extremes and this month the sticky chemical weather makes air conditioning a fine invention. Geisha’s float by youthful punks adorned with nappy pins, sumie ink paintings by drunken monks are priceless artworks while manga pulp is devoured by the tome, pachinko parlours run on gambling frenzy and a deafening mechanical noise but just around the corner are serene moss gardens decorating ancient temples, food is served on earthy raku ceramic plates and in the other hand a hi-tech cell phone connects, computes and entertains globally, various bushido codes formalize violence while the pathetically cute hello kitty doll simply waves at anything and everyone. It’s a neat, safe but intense beast of a city. To ease this non stop hyperactive neon and bamboo input a visit to the 14th century Jizo-in Bamboo Zen temple in Kyoto was needed along with the consumption of yakitori, shabu shabu, sea urchin sushi and a little iced sake to refuel.
Sadly Japan was only a tiny 6 day visit. Moving on to Bangkok for a few days to pick up art equipment and begin acclimatization for the tropics. Bangkok as always involves catching up with old friends, drinking beer and a food frenzy. Thai food being just too good to say no to. Khmer food will be on the menu in the next update. I will be exhibiting at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Cambodia in Phnom Penh. Opening 5th August. See you there.
Here in the foothills of the Andes the 3 farm dogs, Negro, Tinta and Raphael Ricardo laze about near the succulent garden occasionally barking to scare away birds, frogs, uninvited guests or just to pass the time. Over the past two months I have been sun drying local tomatoes, watching the harvest season in full swing, observing the clouds forming around the mountains and also making some art.
I have spent time renovating an Asado room where the occasional BBQ is performed in full Argentinean manner. This room now doubles as my studio where I cook a few ideas as I prepare for the years exhibitions. After cement mixing, painting, hammering and cleaning the room is now a rustic but stable studio. Literally stable/not moving unlike all the studios/cabins I have recently utilized on polar voyages. In total I have spent 6 months on wobbly icy seas making art on the bunks and floors of various ship cabins. Perhaps I have found a base here in La Consulta? I stabilize here, simultaneously planning the year’s travelling. As is to be expected I am working on paintings that recall other places and other headspaces. A dark Norwegian bridge that stank of Nordic depression, a Southern Indian (Kerali) kollum dirt pattern, too many glasses of absinthe in Prague, a Dutch mariner on holiday on wobbly land and various flavours of hut fever I have experienced.
Everyone has been stuck inside for various reasons for a little longer than they wished. I have on occasion been unable to leave a room/house/hut due to blizzards, flooding, cyclones, earthquakes, tropical rainstorms, illness, curfews, rough seas and heat waves. Perhaps all of these are just different types of waves? The feelings of confinement, waiting, fear, isolation, or just plain boredom can be simply annoying like an itch you cant quite cease or as extreme as suicidal depression. In caravans, tents, dongas, guesthouses, shacks, shelters, mud huts, ice caves, apartments, and holiday villas I have paced floors, scribbled notes, starred at walls, cleaned and polished utensils, reread old fashion magazines, drawn madly, chanted rubbish, and inebriated myself with various mixtures whilst waiting. (We are in fact, always anywhere waiting for something.)
Over the years a lot of time has been spent in isolated regions of the world, often in small dwellings. In remote and exotic locations I have enjoyed wild unknown environments but within the huts I have sought comfort and safety. The geographer Yi-Fu Tuan has written, “when space has become totally familiar to us it has become place.” To turn the exotic into the mundane/normal is the same process. Whereby time and familiarity, knowledge and security eventually domesticate a space or make’s ordinary the strange.
All about me grapes are being turned into wine and farm workers scuttle about on tractors, trucks and bicycles. In the asado studio I cultivate ideas and art, occasionally I chat to the 3 dogs as I turn a space into a place.
I write this blog on the southern Atlantic Ocean. It is dark and unstill, full of wet life. Underneath the surface is a river of Krill, The water temperature is about + 5 Celsius, grey clouds clump above the ship. There is a slither of sunshine so the MV Orlova cruises through metallic-like liquid as we pass Shag Rock on our way to the South Georgia. I have been allocated cabin 321 situated by the noisy engine. On the first voyage it was rather sauna-like in climate. A comfortable studio but oddly tropical in temperature making it somewhat confusing when peeking out the port -hole and seeing icebergs float by.
Over the past weeks I have been working in the gym on two mixed media works - POLAR GARDEN and DECEPTION IS. (Caldera/ouroburos) Rather than using the exercise equipment I took over a wall in order to work on these large paintings that involve stitching as well as painting. Polar garden is basically homage to all polar plants, which I admire due to their ability to survive such a long harsh winter. There are over 40 types of moss growing in Antarctica and 100 forms of lichen, some of which are a few thousand years old. I have also been noticing very pretty snow algae which paints the ice red and green.
Other smaller works I have been creating in my cabin. These are stimulated by views and topics such as the ice algae, posts, poles, and aerials, breathing holes, domesticating ice, remote islands and human shelters. I am not busy translating the abundant wildlife into art but I do enjoy observing all the creatures in their wild habitats.
I lost my hat out on deck one afternoon when an icy gust sent it vertical into the domain of the wandering albatross. These massive birds with an average wingspan of 3.5 metres glide over the southern ocean with minimal flapping and plenty of grace. They have no need for my hat. Their search is for food, which is energy to continue their journey. Over the past weeks I have watched whales breaching, seals porpoising, penguins copulating, reindeer munching on moss, jellyfish wobbling, Elephant seals grunting and moulting, fish swimming, birds galore, and strange colourful humans; all the above busy turning food into energy. What to do with the energy is the question. Survive of course or perhaps indulge in a pub -crawl on the Falkland Is? Which is what I managed to do on a brief stop at Stanley as well as wander about this cute village of 2000 folks.
At South Georgia I listened to hundreds of fur seals calling. The noise is high and a touch eerie. Is this the noise that spawned the singing siren myths? Alien squeals, yaps, and barks that could sound female especially if you were a male sailor away from your loved ones for many months or years.
A short historically flavoured walk from Fortuna Bay to Stromness through Shackleton Valley took me along the last few kilometres of an exceptional Polar journey. Seriously scenic!
A lot was seen the past month. Here is a list of landings made.
Voyage 1. South Shetland Islands - Aitcho Is, Half Moon Is. and Deception Is. (Whalers Bay). Antarctic Peninsula - Paradise Bay, Port Lockroy, Jougla Point, Vernadsky station, Petermann Is, Neko Harbour and Danco Is.
Voyage 2. Falklands Islands - New Island and Stanley. South Georgia - Elsehul Bay, Right whale Bay, Salisbury Plain, Prion Is, Fortuna Bay, Stomness, St. Andrews Bay, Grytviken, Gold Harbour and Cooper Is. South Orkney Islands – Coronation Is. South Shetlands – Half Moon Is, Deception Is. Antarctic Peninsula – Cuverville Is, Paradise Bay (Almirante Brown.) Port Lockroy, Jougla Point, Petermann Is.
Today I detect guano aroma in my cabin. Penguin poo perfume is not the most appealing scent so this could be a good time to disembark.
Ushuaia is a charming boomtown at the end of the world with its colourful tiny houses and excellent empanadas. This is where I wave goodbye to the excellent staff and crew onboard the MV Orlova and await a plane that takes me northwards to the grape harvest season. Time to crush grapes rather than guano.
© Stephen Eastaugh, 2019. All Rights Reserved.