A few new pieces of art

I mentioned in my last blog that I went to Frankfurt Zoo on the way from West Africa to Adelaide, Australia, where I live. I was hanging out for some wildlife and although you can’t really call zoo animals ‘wildlife’, it was great to see what can be done with a small space in the middle of a huge city when people who care set their minds to it.

Unfortunately my camera display had been broken by a clumsy x-ray operator in Frankfurt airport going from one section to another, so at the zoo I had to simply click away and hope something was happening, since I couldn’t see the results on the screen (or apply any special settings) so it was a nice surprise when I got home and saw some awesome photos to work from. The following two pieces are a ‘variegated spider monkey’ and a ‘bonobo’ and there will be more to come from this visit. I need to get ready for an exhibition at the Adelaide Zoo with another artist, the amazing Kerryn Hocking, so I’ll be doing as many wildlife pieces as I can before tackling some portraits from Benin with the rich cultural history that can be found there.

Variegated Spider Monkey 2013

Bonobo 2013

 

 

Home? The plight of the displaced animal

In a future blog I’ll be giving a rundown on my trip to West Africa, especially when I have created some art from it. However, since West Africa isn’t exactly blessed with wildlife, being so full of people, I had to get my animal fix on the way back home at Frankfurt Zoo. Yes, I flew the long way home with a very complicated business class ticket created out of cheap points (just to make you jealous, flying business class all the way from Adelaide to Accra in Ghana (and back) and using the flash lounges in the various airports, cost less than an economy airfare by playing the game of using Star Alliance points and matching up the various airlines in the network. More of that another time).

In the Frankfurt Zoo I saw this orangutan and coupled with West Africa’s lack of wildlife (displaced, destroyed or eaten) and the orangutan’s own Indonesian issues with homeland being decimated to make way for our insatiable urge to produce palm oil, I created this protest piece.

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Sometimes you come to a point where you say “enough is enough”. That point came for me when all I saw of wildlife in West Africa were goats and lizards. I guess you can’t eat lizards and they are not going to hurt you, so they stay safe. Snakes and other reptiles are pretty much gone and goats are everywhere, destroying the soil. We did get to a national park but it was the end of the rainy season and the elephant grass was so tall that we didn’t see much. Having said that, it was still a great feeling to be there.

I have one funny story from that park. A river runs through it and with the recent rains, this river was impassable up until the day we tried. When we got to it, the level had dropped but the driver was still unsure of whether he could get through. He asked us to get out and wade across and he would follow in the Jeep. We told him “NO”!! So we drove across in the Jeep – fairly easily.

When we went to leave the park in the afternoon we arrived back at the river, and there, exactly where we were told to walk across – by a professional no less – was this! (You can see our old tyre tracks just beyond it). So there you go – trust your own instincts!

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On my way to Ghana, Togo and Benin

Long time no blog. I’ve been putting too many hours in at the office and haven’t blogged for a while so it’s time to remedy that. I’m writing this from the Singapore Airlines business class lounge – very swish – in Bangkok airport. I have a new trip planned to gather reference material for my art and, as I simply have to every now and then, I’m off back to Africa. This time it’s West Africa. I grew up in Africa and have re-visited many many times but I’ve never been to the west, so here’s to a new adventure. It’s a complicated route to get there; Adelaide – Singapore (one night) – Bangkok – Frankfurt (one night) – Accra in Ghana (and the same route back). The long trip is made all the more bearable because it’s business class all the way – I came across many Star Alliance points when special offers where being dished out and the dollar was in my favour so my luxury ticket has cost less than an economy fare. Don’t I feel clever (for once!).

I’m spending 21 days going through Ghana, Togo and Benin and I know I’ve got some very cool places to go to such as a village of 10,000 people who live in the middle of a lake on stilt houses, and another village of two story mud huts. Of course, wild animals are in my itinerary too and my camera is going to get a serious workout.

I’ll be back with a vengeance on this blog with new art and experiences, but for a while, I will definitely lose wi-fi. That’s the way an adventure should be!

Some trips are pure gold for art

I was recently looking through my art (which is all carefully catalogued on my computer and in various other safe havens) and it struck me that my trip to Africa in 2009 was amazingly successful in generating ideas and references for my work. It was my sixth trip back home since I left at the age of fourteen but for some reason, this one made such an amazing impression that all this art poured out of me. One thing that definitely contributed was that this was the first time I had taken a really good digital SLR so not only could I keep clicking away, but I could also get in really close. I have compiled all of the pieces I’ve done from that one trip into the image below. It really is quite incredible how some travels affect you more than others and that trip was a corker!! It was through six different southern African Countries, seeing the most incredible sights. So here is a pictorial record of hundreds of hours at the desk or easel. The montage was thrown together pretty much willy-nilly but it gives an idea of how good that trip was. The scale of each image is not relative, some are much bigger than others in real life. There are three different mediums represented – scratchboard, pastels and oils.

The excited artist

You’ve all probably done it. You’re on holiday somewhere, chasing down that great photograph of a lion or whatever gets you excited, and finally you see your first one. In my case, this is 1994 on one of my trips to Kenya. I was with my wife on a self organised safari holiday, no zebra striped minibuses – just us and our two wheel drive Datsun which could barely clear the raised grass down the middle of the dirt roads (in fact, I had to get out and push on more than one occasion just so that I could get the car moving again, not a good look when there might be lions watching me). We saw our first lion of the trip. It’s in the next photo – can you see it? We could, just, a long way away. Still, you never know if you’ll see another so you take the photo. Even though it’s the old 35mm days where each picture costs you money you take it, and more, just to record that you saw a lion.

Did you see it? It had our pulses racing despite it being a fleeting glimpse somewhere too far away for my little camera.

Oh well, you’ve seen what you wanted but you are a little disappointed. That may be as good as it gets.

Our next lion……..

and the menaces that pinched his meal. Oh yes, they were lining up!

Then the next lions doing their thing

And relaxing without the usual cigarette

Is there a lesson here? Probably not, other than to keep on going. You never know if that great encounter is just around the corner. I guess this could be a metaphor for life in general – just keep on trying.

What a strange place Etosha is

Here are a couple of scratchboards from my time in Etosha National Park in Namibia. The first is a group of Elephants around the waterhole at Halali. It’s called “Total Protection” because of way the young are protected by the adults. It’s created by fibreglass brush removing the ink in a soft focus fashion, then adding ink back in (diluted in an airbrush), re-scratching, re-inking, re-scratching, re-inking etc as many times as it takes to get the effect I need. Finally I’ve sprayed the whole thing sepia to keep the monochrome effect but also add that little bit of old time feel to it and the sunshine and dust of Africa.

“Total Protection”

The second piece is a young zebra trotting through the water after its mum in a piece called “Water Baby”. It’s from a zebra at the waterhole at Okaukuejo.

“Water Baby”

So why is Etosha a strange place? Well, it’s an extremely dry place. It has a vast salt pan which is eerie and beautiful. The park has very little precipitation and as such it doesn’t support a lot of the animals you’d expect. It has no hippo, no buffalo and no crocodiles. Nip across the border into Botswana and in the Okavango Delta or Chobe National Park you’ll encounter as many hippos, buffalo or crocodiles as you might wish to see. Here’s a croc I photographed at Chobe. Believe it or not, this is in the wild and I’m not using a zoom. I’m literally a metre away from this large croc. However, I’m in a boat and it isn’t. It’s also just been fast alseep and is simply releasing heat through it’s open jaws so I’m neither being brave nor foolhardy.

So what’s going on in Etosha? You’d expect, with all that water in my pieces of art, to see all of the missing animals. No, these are man made waterholes, specifically created from boreholes to draw the animals to them in large numbers so we can get a good look at them. It works too. There were so many elephants at Halali, scores of zebra coming to drink all day at Okaukuejo, and at another waterhole, Namutoni, the best you can come to seeing a large predator is the python that swims there yet the air is thick with birdlife.

Is Etosha worth the trip? You bet it is! Not only do you get to see an abundance of wildlife at these waterholes, but if you venture out into the arid areas, you’ll see plenty from little dikdiks to the gorgeous lilac breasted roller, male oryx sparring for dominance, lion and many other animals. If your main love is monkeys however, you’ll be disappointed. There are none at all. In fact the campground pests aren’t monkeys here but go-away birds, red-billed hornbills and jackals – what a fabulous camping experience when those are considered pests!!

Me on the quiet and eeire Etosha Pan

A bit of fun and a bit of inspiration

I guess life leads you to a point where you become inspired by certain things or people. I wanted to show a few of my inspirations, a bit of travel (which is always an inspiration) and include a bit of fun along the way.

I’ve always travelled ever since my dad dragged his family around East Africa on safari most weekends, starting from when I was a baby. He put my first snake in my hands at the age of about 18 months and so I’ve never had a fear of them, or spiders and other traditional scaries. Well, not a big fan of mosquitos but since they are great pollinators, we’ll have to put up with them.

As I grew older, the snakes grew longer

and the animals grew weirder

I’m with the duiker, my brother is with the zorilla

And then older still I started to travel on my own with a definite focus on the style of travel my dad had instilled in me. Here I’m seen at Thompsons Falls in Kenya at the age of 20.

One thing my dad didn’t do was teach me any fashion sense (he was no better than me!). My clothes sense wasn’t good and the moustache hung around for thirteen years, goodness knows why?! I’m seen here riding on a sugar plantation in Kwa-Zulu Natal in South Africa.

Fortunately on occasion a beard disguised the moustache. This is with a gibbon in Thailand. The poor thing was chained to a lamp post and was starved of affection. I shouldn’t have cuddled it but simply had to and it wouldn’t let me go. I wish I could have rescued it.

Of course like most travelling bums I did the usual combination of adventure sports like whitewater rafting and parachuting

I’ve been stuck with my dad’s sense of animal empathy. Here a seagull chick had become stranded off the coast of Scotland and I decided to rescue it.

I literally froze for my trouble. Scotland isn’t known for its balmy waters.

Nice jocks!

Yes, I managed to do some stupid things along the way. I got myself a tag along with Karen soldiers in the jungles of Burma for five days. This is one of the tribes that’s been trying to get independence from those horrible military rulers of the country and if they could just stop fighting with the other tribes that are on ‘their own side’, they might just do it. I had to familiarise myself with a bit of ‘protection’, not that I wanted to but following the rules was important. I’m sure I’m holding it wrong.

I’ve had some wonderful opportunities in my life, mainly because I’ve sought them out, but some have fallen into my lap. I got the opportunity to dive with minke whales who literally came up to me. These are the ones the Japanese have done their best to eliminate! Shame I only had a crappy throw-away waterproof camera. At one time I had six minkes in my vision, but I’d already run out of film (the old 35mm days)

I was lucky enough to share the last 20 years with a kindred spirit, a wonderful lady who loves the things I love and is seen here with me on top of Mount Kenya in 1994

One thing she doesn’t share with me is my fashion sense. In fact I think she would rather move fifty paces to the left at times. This photo though wasn’t really my fault. We had travelled to Kenya on a shoestring with minimal luggage and decided to climb Mount Kenya at the last minute, so I had to buy some ‘warm’ clothes in the only store left available to me. My choices weren’t good and nothing fit but I still think I look quite dashing – Not!

How could you not be inspired in a place like this. A snow-topped mountain right on the African equator with a glacier like this

Animals find me or I find them wherever I go. Here I am with a Jacksons Three Horned Chameleon wandering around loose at the Nairobi Snake Park, and another one wandering onto my hand in Tsavo West National Park

When you’ve been lucky enough to live a life like I have, it becomes a responsibility to raise the next generation to love camping in wild places. I think I’m having varying degrees of success here

I’m pretty certain one of us has spotted something in Hluhluwe National Park but none of us knows where to look

I did win though with my two boys and I’m sure they’ll continue the fight for a better world for wild animals and wild places

And as for my wife, she hasn’t changed, she’s as game as ever.

And me, I continue to be fascinated by wildlife and the wilderness and that will never change;

from playing with chimpanzees

to feeding peanut butter to cheetahs

to mucking around with large lions in Zambia

 

to sitting on top of the largest sand dunes in the world in the Namib Desert

to sitting at the edge of a wilderness miracle called Fish River Canyon in Namibia. Yes, like the better known Grand Canyon but without the people and trinkets that are sold there.

Long may this wonderful journey continue and let’s all buckle down and make certain the natural world is there for our kids to enjoy.

And finally, Australia has its blue tongued lizards but did you know that in the Okavango Delta in Botswana, a similar animal has managed to establish itself. Do not approach!!