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
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
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
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
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
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.