En Plein Air in Antarctica
Words and Paintings by: Cathy Shugg
“En Plein air (on location) artmaking is where it all starts for me. I love to paint and draw my way into a deeper understanding of where I actually am in time and place. Evolving that understanding through many different techniques and media is a key part of my art practice.”
This was painted on the deck of the ship and was my first view of Antarctica. I discovered that Zodiacs make excellent windbreaks for outdoor artists!
“Where Are My Friends?”
This little chinstrap was the first penguin I saw. He was a great model, standing motionless and gazing out to sea for ages.
This piece was painted on location on Petermann Island. It was a warm day - around 6 degrees C by the time I’d organized myself on site to paint the rocky bay and the gentoo penguins. They seemed to be enjoying the sun too - preening, stretching, and posing for ages like statues. They were fantastic artist’s models.
As I painted, several more gentoos waddled past me on their way to join the group on the rocks nearby. Apart from a casual glance or two in my direction, they entirely ignored me - such a novel experience with wildlife!
When I work en plein air, I’m not wedded to photo-reality. Instead, I explore the essence of what I see and feel. I worked away happily with my brushes for over an hour, feeling unusually comfortable. After a while, I realized that it was because my feet, which were resting in the volcanic gravel of the stream bed, were warm! An active volcano is an unusual aid to creativity, and feeling it breathing its warmth into my body as I painted was just a little bit eerie. I drew in the ink later that night in the artificial warmth of my shipboard cabin.
When I work en plein air, I’m not wedded to photo-reality. Instead, I explore the essence of what I see and feel.
“The Wreck” for me is a symbol of the tenuous grip we have on Antarctica in the face of nature’s huge and unpredictable power - but also a symbol of man’s tenacity and sheer stubbornness. Even the building’s structure speaks its layered history. A Norwegian-British friend pointed out the Norwegian style of the exposed roof skeleton in my painting; I’d unwittingly recorded the hut’s earlier history as a Norwegian whaling base, as well as its later abandonment by the British.
This one was done when I got back from Antarctica - from an accumulation of memories from walks near penguin colonies. I love how their highways are peachy orange.
This selection of paintings is from Cathy’s "Fire and Ice" collection. Fascinated all her life by the frozen continent’s history, geology, and wildlife, she painted and drew on site during her voyage to Antarctica at every opportunity – in the snow amongst penguins, on the shores of an active volcano, and on the ship’s deck crossing the Antarctic Circle.