Amsterdam was its usual jolly self with average weather and a few junkies wobbling around frantically. The low Dutch sky turned me into a herring addict requiring a few fish each day. In between my oily snacks Carolina and I caught up with many friends but we sadly missed Dan Tuffys band called BIG LOW performing at the Paradiso one evening. A few drinks were had in cosy Dutch brown bars which was super unfortunately it was not easy seeing everyone as we were running out of social steam and time.
After my herring banquet we flew over to Mexico City landing just when the Day of the Dead was on the calendar. A wild colourful celebration that decorates the city with skeletons, skulls made of sugar, cars adorned with huge red horns and the population party with death in mind.. as well as life. It made Halloween look a bit limp or should I say dead.
The Day of the Dead or Día de los Muertos involves family and friends praying for and remembering those who have died. Now connected to the Christian holy days of All Saints day an All Souls day but actually much older as its roots can be foundwith the Aztec goddess called Mictecacihuatl (don’t ask me how to pronounce that) and in many other indigenous traditions all across the planet in fact.
Unlike some cultures where death is often avoided with drugs, cosmetic surgery, and various remedies here in Mexico DF things are different. Things are also very very busy with over 20 million people living (and dying) in this rich and chaotic megacity which has a pulse all of its own. The city kept us busy but in the end there was too much to see, taste, hear and feel; just like life really.
Most of December was spent in Argentina with Carolina potting around the cactus garden. Summertime was blowing in with grapes growing and the odd mountain storm brewing near by. We both enjoyed practicing the concept of home; a very pleasant experience after our recent frantic travels. I watched the fruit grow and we enjoyed a quiet rustic lifestyle with a few bbqs, three dogs running about and not a little vino. This calm and relaxing time was not to last sadly as that Ice has a kind of hex on me.
The festive seasonis now and I spend it preparing for another southern trip. Looking for warm socks, growing my beard and attending a few family food frenzies. There was a new years celebration, as well I believe. Next step is to Hobart to board the Amderma, alarge Russian ship that will whisk me across the Southern Ocean to the very small village of Mawson station. Until then.
On a hot afternoon from the classic Roebuck pub verandah we watched the Shinju Matsuri floats cruise by with hundreds of spectators fuelled by beer all in a very festive mood.
As usual Sammy the dragon was the star of the pearl festival parade, colorful, noisy and well loved by all in Broome although the farting earth and fire brigade water canon were big hits as well. Latter that evening I tried a seriously zingy chilli-flavoured beer brewed by a German beer master in a restaurant overlooking the dark mangrove mudflats. Other local treats were pearl meat and gutsy homemade sambal chutney.
My Short Street gallery exhibition came to an end so my tropical shed studio was once again shut down and things crammed into boxes and bags. It was bye bye Broome time.
After a wallow in the warm Indian Ocean we flew to Darwin where we consumed more beer and art, a lot of both in fact were crammed into a twelve hour pit stop in this top end city. Then it was on to northern Queensland.
Mackay Artspace held my 15th TRAVAILOGUE exhibition. Mackay is currently having a mining boom so the town is growing fast by selling various forms of dirt overseas. I screened the AntarcticArt documentary and made a short artists talk at the opening function where 100 people enjoyed a sit down dinner as well as an amusing talk by William Mora who served everyone tasty tales of food, family and art. Michael Wardell the director of Artspace Mackay along with his family played fine hosts during our stay. Intriguing jade plants hung outside our bedroom in the garden-jungle next door and the warm sea wobbled out the back door of there lovely home. Michael even sang a long Irish ditty on the cliff-top to entertain us below the full moon one evening. As we flew out heading south to Sydney we saw 20 massive cargo freighters hungrily waiting in line by the islands to be filled.
A group show in Sydney at Sheffer Gallery with an Argentinean flavor opened on the 17th Sept. Tango, illegal saints, Patagonia, asado BBQs, weathered walls and wine wafted about the very white and very charming gallery run by Andrew Purvis in Darlington. Carolina and I attended the opening and afterwards a private dinner party constructed from excellent Sydney characters, food and laughs. (Thanx to Lisa Andrews) Preparations for SE Asia kept us moving during this week so sight-seeing was not on the menu in this pretty city. Where are we now?
Oh yes its Thailand. My exhibition titled YOU ARE HERE in Bangkok Lalanta Gallery relates to public tourist maps found all over the globe designed to help foreigners locate themselves in new cities. Everyone has seen those little red dots that tell us what street we are on and how far we are from our destination. As someone who has been on the road for almost twenty-five years, such cartographic tools are often needed.
The work in this exhibition covers a bit of geography, from Australia to Franz Josef Land near the North Pole and Antarctica to Bangkok. When you constantly move you are basically in transit, on your way to someplace or another. Your route, not the place where you stand structures your experience. It is mobility that drives you onward to the next destination making stability secondary. I need to remind myself to slow down occasionally and locate myself in specific places or I may find myself being everywhere and at the same time nowhere. YOU ARE HERE could be a mantra to help situate me in the world by simply answering the question “Where are you?” Unfortunately such a mantra will not answer the bigger question of “why are you here?” In a way making art eases this tricky existential question.
Ms Bronte Moules from the Australian embassy opened my show with a short speech and as usual a few old friends appeared at the opening to peek, party and ponder. The recent street riots have ceased but the political uncertainty and mistrust of many governmental figures is still very much here. I wonder if there exists a good politician able to take charge of Thailand and if such a beast could actually operate successfully here or anywhere for that matter. Excuse my darkness but I just read Cormac McCarthy’s novel The Road. Those who have read this great book will understand. Time now to move eastward.
Meta House run by Nico Mesterharm is multi-media cultural centre sitting close the Phnom Penh palace offerring an amazing amount of cultural activities from art exhibitions, multi-national musical performances to a rich ongoing cinema program and even a rooftop bar. Carolina Furque and myself presented the show Khmer Obscura at Meta House on Oct. 7th.
Carolinas photographic works are rather dark, distorted and ethereal temples. Fuzzy and obscure images that are part of an ongoing visual essay capturing distorted panoramic cities across the world.
My quirky, odd and dislocated paintings on show grew from my constant travels including five visits to the Kingdom of Cambodia since 1999. We recognize that we will never have a very precise nor clear vision of what happens in the Khmer world. (Perhaps this is true for many Khmers as well.) Nevertheless we touch upon Buddhism, bombs, architecture and wine with apparent aphrodisiac qualities in this show. Carolina and I attempted to confuse, amuse, obscure and focus our energy on Phnom Penh during our short week long stay here. On top of the exhibition here we caught up with a gaggle of characters that had plenty of tales to tell and ample PP gossip.
Back on the road now and thankfully not Mr McCarthy’s dark road. A flight to Amsterdam awaits us so bye bye tropics and hello Holland.
Before I left Argentina the infamous Zonder wind arrived blowing everyone into a touchy mood. Then intense rainbows were seen with massive rains for a few days and finally a snowstorm that covered La Consulta with a pretty fluffy white coat. Finally a few busy days in Buenos Aires with Carolina then over the Pacific I flew once again to Australia. My exhibition ‘Finding yourself lost in Melbourne’ at William Mora gallery (www.moragalleries.com.au) was opened by Rupert Myer and attended by a cocktail of characters. The opening night was fun, busy and gaudy and my hangover the next day was exactly the opposite. The hometown was chilly but warm with many people I wanted to catch up with. Never enough time to do so unfortunately.
It seems that next year I shall be spending a large chunk of time in Antarctica as the Australian Antarctic Division has granted me a unique Art Fellowship that takes me back to the Ice for winter. To my knowledge no contemporary artist has set up a studio over the dark part of the year when Antarctic stations turn into tiny pockets of life not unlike space stations. This will be a demanding residency logistically, socially, emotionally and physically but I have been preparing for this project for some years. Which station I settle into is yet to be decided but I will be working in a very bizarre blizzard swept studio under the striking Aurora Australis electro-magnetic storms far south of Tasmania.
After Melbourne a pit stop in Perth was needed where I spent 5 hours completing a psychological adaptability examination attempting to gauge whether I can survive an Antarctic winter without going gaga. Gaga is the technical term for combing your beard with a fork and singing Abba songs in a loud bass voice whilst eating Penguin pie. A full medical was also required to secure my trip back to Antarctica. Visits to the Art Gallery of West Australia, the café strip in Fremantle and the great Kings Park reminded me that Perth is a pretty fine city but I was keen to get into a studio so I flew north to the Broome Studio where I began painting almost immediately. In early August Broome's Short Street Gallery showed a body of my work that covered much geography and my interest in place versus space.
If familiarity and time are required to make space a place as the geographer Yi Fu Tuan states then my rapid movement across massive chunks of geography lands me permanently in space. Not a bad location for a landscape abstractionist as each painting operates as a unique space. Landscape painting is a visual space where the relationship to actual topography is fluid and cerebral. In this de-territorialized space I spend a lot of time. These spaces or works of art shown were all gleaned from experiences on the road or sea with deliberate chaos and confusion in the work. I mixed shapes seen in Portuguese ruins situated in Macau with colours from the Mongolian flag or views of Antarctica with Persian miniatures. Toys, rotten teeth, rainbows, reindeer antlers and an Egyptian mummy pillow all find themselves abruptly relocated without reason. Things were uprooted in order to mix visually with elements replanted from somewhere else. The only rule was that all must sit happily together in the space of each painting. Everywhere, somewhere or wherever holiday together in these tiny detours. Stars and beasts meander through the works creating small souvenirs from everysomewherever.
It has been said before but making art does resemble life a little. Things get changed and rearranged, sorted and then changed again. All the elements are out there, then they move or adapt to another form. Nothing is ever totally destroyed. Even artwork trashed, burnt and painted over still floats about as a concept currently not needed. Liquid turns to solid, ideas turn into paintings. Movement pretends to sleep. Creating art distills life, packets experience and attempts to put things in perspective but there are infinite views and no one spot to stand to get that perfect image. What views I will devour next Antarctic winter are yet to be seen but before that trip I should definitely stock up on warmth and tropical fruit.
We went camping up in the nearby mountains called the pre Cordillera Range; our destination was Portillo Argentino sitting at 4290 M high. The weather was kind so after Argentinean mate tea we scurried up there in about 4 hours absorbing the fine landscape. One feature that interested me were the snow and ice formations called Penitentes found at high altitudes over 4000 meters. They take the form of tall thin blades of hardened snow or ice closely spaced with the blades oriented towards the general direction of the sun. Penitentes can be as tall as a person making them rather astonishing. After such sights and some sighs we came down the mountain and back into the studio I fell to consider, create and conjure up paintings with a mess of ideas from this trek and many others Penitentes, displaced mats, curfews, tarns, badventure, deserts, smaze, gamblers and howling dogs all float about in my mind awaiting realization in some form.
My problem has never been 'what to do?' creating art annihilated that question long ago. My problem seems to be 'where to do?' As I write this I plan packing, transport, locating studio spaces on the road and logistics for exhibitions. In two months I will head to the Aeropuerto to fly over the Pacific Ocean beginning the next walkabout. Solo exhibitions planned for this year include:-
Below is John Batten’s catalogue introduction from my last Hong Kong show.
Not As Lost As You Think
The chaos, mess, feelings of being lost, dislodgement, otherworldliness and one of Stephen’s favourite phrases the 'weird craziness' of his life and its encounters belies the fact that there is always an incredibly productive work schedule and a disciplined formality in Stephen Eastaugh’s artwork. I wonder, anyway, after years of his personally imposed 'chaos', that it may be a situation he quite successfully controls.
Stephen's art offers enquiry, ideas and comment as compelling as anything in a serious magazine and he plays with both tough subjects and exposes the smaller cracks in humanity's odd diversity.
His recent work is all slightly three-dimensional, predominantly using acrylic paint as background on linen and stitched thread, polyester, cotton and wool to highlight a central theme. We see fantasy, landscape, minimalism, painterly impressionism and a quirky array of surreal and invented shapes and almost-creatures.
These imaginations could be Borges-like, but despite the inevitability in the coming years of his spending more time in Argentina, the World of Eastaugh will remain stubbornly and only Eastaugh-like.
I have often been engaged with the idea of extremes in my artwork. My physical movement over the years seems to bolster this. In 1983 I hitchhiked across the Sahara desert and after extracting myself from West Africa I went camping in Iceland. My studio in Antarctica was geographically balanced by boarding an Icebreaker to the North Pole. I have wandering through Broome’s burning red pindan desert-beaches and Ladahki temples on Himalayan peaks, watched tropical storms in Bangkok and bounced on 15 metre waves south of Patagonia. It is not very surprising that I have used titles such as:-
Sacred and bored
Someone wanted to marry me and someone wanted to kill me
Why this melding of opposites, combining BITTER-SWEET extremes, joining ideas that are miles apart or just differing? By placing two odd elements together that are opposed or at least not cohesive as a unit I create a kind of oxymoron. I mark out extreme conceptual boundaries with contradictory titles and contrasting PRETTY-MESSY or AWFULLY-NICE images. This creates an absurd and sometimes SERIOUSLY-HUMOROUS space where the mind can run wild exploring all the terrain between two distant poles. Between the domestic and the exotic we can find a lot of CLEARLY-AMBIGUOUS activity and plenty of landscape. This STRANGELY-FAMILIAR space is where I ACCIDENTALLY ON PURPOSE park my MOBILE-HOME. It is where I drink a DRY-MARTINI on my non-stop WORKING-HOLIDAY and I feel as if I am STILL-MOVING somewhere.
I look out the window of my studio at the clouds above the Andes mountain range on a sunny January evening. This range is the longest on the planet stretching from Patagonia to Panama, over 7,000 km in distance. Not so far away is the snow-capped peak of Aconquija at 6959 metres high. This would be a pretty fine stroll to do one week. This is landscape and cloudscape that I should wander deep into but it also operates as the majestic backdrop for life in La Consulta. For want of a better description I am a landscape abstractionist. I have been busy with landscape and geography for 25 years now. My biography is constructed from huge chunks of geography and the journeys between one place and the next. Travel and geography I find hard to separate from other elements of my life. Art maps my life.
Mapping is a tool to control the landscape. Landscape painting is also busy trying to understand and control the environment but there is more to it. An element of homage or love creeps into some pictures along with this desire to know the place and express it and to communicate various flavours of knowing or different perspectives. Landscape painting oscillates between the desire to master space and the desire to pay homage to a space. Control and romance are two extreme forms of relationship that an artist can have with the environment. Depending on the artist the relationship could take innumerable views. From respect to academic dissection or inspiration to just make marks on canvas or paper.
To make sense of or to put order to a thing that is complex and fluid is a human activity. Everything changes. Landscape does as well and humans are often busy trying to work it out or at least to stay comfortable in their surroundings. Stability and constants are easier to live with than constant change and chaos. Which worldview do we want, information and control or beauty and romance? The answer of course is both.
Cloudscapes are a good example, their shapes and colours inform us about climate but just how wonderful is it to watch a sunset or massive cumulus nimbus clouds building up for a storm?
Speaking of chaos. New years party consisted of a crucified pig on an open pit fire and many bottles of red wine. Dancing was also on the menu and of course the hammock was utilized for medicinal purposes for some days after the festivities. 2008 arrived with a rainstorm, some hail and a double rainbow that refreshed the dusty town of La Consulta. The Chinese Lunar year arrives soon so we may celebrate the year of the Rat in some rustic Argentinean dumpling manner.
© Stephen Eastaugh, 2019. All Rights Reserved.