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Antarctic artist 2017/18: Shelly Perkins

Antarctic artist 2017/18: Shelly Perkins

Hut and penguins             Colony life

Shelly Perkins visited the Antarctic in early 2017. Shelly uses a technique that blends traditional illustrative drawing with digital technologies to create beautifully rich images of landscapes and wildlife.

I was fortunate enough to travel to Antarctica as the friends of SPRI artist in residence in January and February 2017.

Just the name Antarctica sends a frisson of excitement down the spine of any would be adventurer. It's one of the last places on our planet where a true wilderness experience can really still be had. Pouring over maps of the continent names such as 'Paradise Harbour', 'Cape Disappointment', 'Crystal Sound' and 'Dismal Island' hint at the times of hardship, glory and elation experienced by early explorers 'on the ice'. It's these tales of daring-do coupled with the unimaginably picturesque scenery and unique wildlife which draws people back to this continent again and again. Antarctica now attracts more than 35,000 visitors annually mostly through cruises setting out from Ushuaia to the more northerly parts of the Western Peninsular and South Georgia. My passage would take me on a slightly different route to most polar tourists. Not only would I be visiting less frequented places on the dramatic western peninsula but I'd be doing it on board the Royal Navy's ice -breaking ship, the HMS Protector during a six-week stint at sea as 'Artist in Residence' onboard the iconic vessel.

The Protector spends the austral summer patrolling Antarctic waters upholding the work of The Antarctic Treaty. As well as carrying out her own surveying operations one of her main roles is facilitating scientists from organisations such as British Antarctic Survey (BAS), The Antarctic Heritage Trust (AHT) and The Scott Polar Research Institute (SPRI). It is the 'Friends' of SPRI who organise the artist residency programme along with Bonhams, Fine Art Auctioneers, who sponsored the trip for me.

I would be the 7th artist to have been resident on board one of the Navy's ships on this residency scheme. My particular interest in wildlife and conservation issues lead me to being selected along with my more unusual working methods, combining a mix of traditional and digital techniques to create textural collaged works. It was hoped that my contemporary way of working would reach-out to a new audience and engage people on the issues of climate change and conservation that are threatening this fragile ecosystem.

Whites, greys and blues were the predominant colours that I was expecting to be working with during my trip. It was going to be a hugely daunting side-step from the lush greens of rural Worcestershire that much of my portfolio showcases. It was certainly going to push my work to new limits.

I left the UK on a dark and dreary January evening, from RAF Brize Norton bound for the Falkland Islands where my journey by ship would begin.

As I write I am sifting through some of my 4000 photographs from the trip and the memories of the incredible and daunting beauty of the Western Peninsular of Antartica are all flooding back. It is a place that makes you feel like the most tiny and insignificant being on the planet but yet also the most empowered and privileged. Trying to select just 200 images to form into a presentation from all those taken is almost impossible, I feel I want to share every view captured in a hope that it will, in some small way, emulate to others the awe-inspiring feeling of being in that incredible place, how lucky I am that I was able to witness it first hand.

Life on board a Naval vessel was incredibly interesting, as a civilian it was a fantastic insight into military life and what a polite and incredibly well organised group of people they were. Under the guidance of Executive Officer Trefor Fox we had an incredible month 'on the ice'. I tried to get stuck into life on board as much as possible and many of the crew took part in the pilates classes that I offered to run to complement the many other 'phys' activities on board! ! Anyway I think I can say that I had got my sea legs by the time I left and I have been keeping in touch with several of my ship-mates since my return, all have been keen to see the new work I am producing, many now following me on my social media platforms.

I had been lucky enough to visit some of the most beautiful and remarkable places on our planet during my six week voyage on board the Protector. Port Lockroy, Base Y on Horseshoe Island, Deception Island, Lagotellerie Island, Rothera, and many more. Each displayed remarkable variations in the landscapes and wildlife we had seen and each offered an opportunity to inspire a new piece of work. These works will hopefully go on to educate, challenge and delight a new audience of would be Antarctic protectors.

I have had an incredible response from the images and tales of my trip that I have already shared, people have been really inspired by my journey and it has been wonderful to have already shared the images with people who may have previously had no particular connection or understanding of Antarctica.

I continue to endeavour to convey to others my experiences from the trip through my work and hopefully open up the beauty and fragility of this continent to new eyes.

Follow me on instagram @shellyperkinswildlifeart


Find out more about Shelly's work.