Award-winning artist Darren Rees received the Artist in Residency honour from the Friends of The Scott Polar Research Institute in 2015, and he travelled with the Royal Navy on HMS Protector from the Falkland Islands to the Antarctic Peninsula. His new book Ice Bound documents his journey with a collection of sketches, watercolour and acrylic paintings executed in situ.
Darren’s new exhibition is at on at the Polar Museum, Cambridge from 18th January to 25th February 2017, with over seventy of the original artworks and small sketchbooks from Ice Bound, wonderfully showing us more of his methods, encounters and experiences in the far south. Not only that, but a full colour book and all of the artworks are available for sale.
It’s been a lifetime’s ambition to experience the natural wonders of Antarctica, and as a wildlife enthusiast I’ve always wanted to witness the large penguin colonies of the far south. I’ve been lucky enough to see penguins in the wild in Galapagos and South Africa – wonderful occasions for sure but these had been small groups of a dozen or so birds. My time as artist in residence started in the Falkland Islands where there are spectacular numbers of penguins and I had opportunities on three days to visit three colonies.
The first was close to Port Stanley, at Gypsy Cove, where there were hundreds of Magellanic Penguins hunkered amongst the grass tussocks on the low cliff slopes. Hundreds more were strewn across the perfect white sand beach below and there was no shortage of interesting models as I sketched and painted. It was also my first full day in the field – I had arrived the day before after a long flight from Brize Norton via Ascension Island – so there were new birds everywhere with Blackish Cinclodes, Upland Goose, Austral Thrush and Dark-throated Finch. In the shallow bay there were Peale’s Dolphins bursting through the water, with larger Sei Whales surfacing further out.
My second day took me to Telephone Cove where there was a colony of engaging Rockhopper Penguins – totally adorable! My guide for the day was a farmer called Adrian who loved showing people the prize exhibits on his land. He was also a keen sports fan and it was rather surreal spending the day sketching and painting penguins while he listened to Radio 5-live broadcasting International Rugby and then the League Cup Final footie from half-way around the world!
Other side-show attractions included Peregrines, Giant Petrel, a beautiful dark Variable Hawk soaring with Turkey Vultures, and another Sei Whale in the bay. For the record Chelsea beat Spurs 2-0 with goals from John Terry and Diego Costa, yet Rockhoppers United were easily my team-of-the-day.
On the third day I met Peter, a local fisherman-cum-guide who took me to Volunteer Point. It was an amazing drive, first by road to Johnson’s Farm, then off-road across endless exposed moor to Volunteer Point. It’s a fantastic place and worth the bumpy, and at times muddy, ride. A broad, beautiful white beach stretched to turquoise surf, with grassy dunes and short turf and there were birds everywhere. Gentoo’s, Magellanic and King Penguins dotted the landscape in great numbers, and there was just too little time.. I took lots of photos for a frantic half hour before knuckling down to paint for nearly three hours. At first the weather was fine but then there was a slight drizzle in the air that just persisted and proved difficult for watercolours…
I persevered working with the King Penguins, and I recall being a little disappointed by my efforts but this could never ruin the experience of being there. Now I look back and even think that the spotting on the paintings – a little like a marbling effect – actually enhances the image.
With thanks to Mascot Media publishers. Darren’s book is available in our shop, or directly from the publisher.