Isbjørn – In search of the ice bear.

I have returned to civilization after my trek to the far north and I have many tales to tell.

Naturally, my true reason to head to the Arctic was to hunt Polar Bears. As I drew closer and closer to the Pole, they became more prevalent and, at times, I discovered them in the most unusual places where I was ill-prepared for the encounter!

My first close encounter with a ‘real’ bear was at the Fram Museum in Oslo. I think he’d stopped by to visit his old friend Fridtjof Nansen. He seemed docile but irritable – not surprising as he was in the cafe, waiting in line for a stale lamington.

Don't touch me!

Don’t touch me!

For some reason all the other customers had decided to leave.

Was it the bear or the stale laming tons?

Was it the bear or the stale lamingtons?

Some of his friends had decided to move into the museum too. I guess if Nansen was free to park in the drift ice for a couple of years, they felt free to return the favor and crash at his place for a while.

Looking for an inuit snack.

Looking for an inuit snack.

From Prof. Larsen's treatise on Polar Bear behavior.

From Prof. Larsen’s treatise on Polar Bear behavior.

Hanging out with the kids

Hanging out with the kids

One particularly hostile bear was to be found in the thrilling horror arcade next to the Fram. I entered with trepidation.

Icy tingles went up my spine.

Icy tingles went up my spine.

The atmosphere chilled and I could here the grinding of bergs.

The atmosphere chilled and I could hear the grinding of bergs.

The ice mummy!

The ice mummy!

Suddenly! There he was!

Suddenly! There he was!

I thought the Natural History Museum in Oslo would be a safer place for me to expand my understanding of Polar Bears. However even here I was in for a harrowing surprise.

Red in tooth and claw.

Red in tooth and claw.

He had some interestingly gruesome tales tales to tell. Mostly of the loss of his kin!

Tales of loss and woe.

Tales of woe – and the need for breath mints!

I found his brother bjørn upstairs stalking some rather moldy prey.

Waiting forever for the seal to make a fatal move!

Waiting forever for the seal to make a fatal move!

With my newfound understanding from encounters with the many  expat isbjørn I met in Oslo, I decided I was ready to head north in search of their more lively brethren. I was lucky. As soon as my plane touched down in the distant town of Longyearbyen on the coast of Spitsbergen, I encountered a noble specimen.

Don't complain about missing luggage in Lonyearbyen.

Don’t complain about missing luggage in Lonyearbyen.

Here the Isbjørn were more fearless than in the civilized cities of Norway.

This one was running loose in the supermarket.

"Where's the seafood section?"

“Where’s the seafood section?”

Surprisingly, they were even prowling in the Svalbard Musuem!

"These seals look stuffed to me!"

“These seals look stuffed to me!”

And so it was finally time to climb aboard the good ship Antigua and set sail for the drift ice and glaciers of the Svalbard Archipelago to see if I might  find a truly wild and free Isbjørn – one less familiar with the ways of humans. We sailed for days. Cruising through the ice floes, searching along glacier tongues, listening to the walruses and seals to see if they had any news.

On and on through the fog and ice…

We came to the fabled abandoned Russian mining town of Pyramiden, where we had heard that there had been a recent sighting by a vigilant local hunter.

Comrade Alexander on his endless vigil.

Comrade Alexander on his endless vigil.

Our trusted native guides found nothing!

Saint Therese, the far sighted.

Saint Therese, the far-sighted.

Eventually we heard the alarm call that a bear had been sighted in the local bar! Imagine our disappointment on arrival. I thought the Russians knew their bears!

A Red Herring!

A Red Herring!

We set sail once more upon the open seas and icebound fjords.

We sailed further south, away from the pack ice, looking for lone bears who had decided to risk the warmer weather in search of prey.

After days of hunting, finally, we were rewarded. We bravely landed in our zodiacs and mounted a montane rise to spy a solo bear among the growlers and bergs calved from the nearby glacier. He was comfortably munching on what appeared to be a seal’s noggin’ but at that range and in my heightened sense of fear it was hard to hold my spyglass steady.

I calmed my nerves, took aim, crossed my fingers and took my shot!!!

At last, a living Isbjørn!

At last, a living Isbjørn!

At last, after thousands of miles and many (very) dead ends we had seen the majestic Isbjørn. Striding powerfully through his native habitat, confident in his position as apex predator (almost!).

We took our leave. Returning to the trusty Antigua we set sail for a safe harbor and a well earned reward!!

An icy cold Isbjørn.

An icy cold Isbjørn.

Stay tuned for more tall tales and true from the Arctic soon!!

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New York – Tara Donovan and Hiroshi Sugimoto

Continuing to explore the New York galleries, I headed to Chelsea with my old Icelandic comrade and superb photographer Mark Hartman.

Icelandic comrades re-united on a Vespa

Icelandic comrades re-united on a Vespa

By far the best work was at Pace Gallery. Two outstanding exhibitions by two of my all time favorite artists – Tara Donovan and Hiroshi Sugimoto. Both end on June 28th so get going!!!

Tara Donovan

Tara Donovan

This amazing geological work is composed of millions of of white index cards stacked on top of each other in sedimentary layers. The structures remind me of those dribble sand mounds you make at the beach. The textures when you get up close belie the scale and I found myself imagining scaling the cliffs of paper.

Getting lost in the detail

Getting lost in the detail

The detail reminds me of my friend Stephen Hilyard’s seductive Rapture of the Deep  photo series created from images of diving in the crystal waters of Iceland.

Dougal, Leysin 1977 from Stephen Hilyard's Rapture of the Deep series

Dougal, Leysin 1977

Going deeper.

Going deeper.

In the adjacent gallery was another of her hard to define, but oh so evocative large sculptures made from thousands of narrow square section rods of acrylic.

Tara Donovan Untitled

Tara Donovan
Untitled

Detail

Detail

As if that wasn’t delicious enough, in the adjacent gallery space was a huge showing of part of Hiroshi Sugimoto’s ongoing series of diorama photographs.They were presented beautifully. Huge black and white prints with immensely rich tonal range and detail,  mounted in fat black frames but with no glass, so there was nothing between you and the surface of the print – an open window onto an illusory landscape. They were all mounted high on the wall so that the I felt dwarved by the works. Almost as if I was a kid again peering over the lip of the dioramas at the Museum of Natural History (in Sydney, New York, San Francisco,Oslo, etc.). I’ve always loved dioramas and I feel already that they are going to be an important part of this trip – deja vu in hindsight – if there is such a thing.

Sugimoto in the woods

Sugimoto in the woods – c. 10 ft long!

Detail

Detail – luscious warm tones

Sugimoto on ice

Sugimoto on ice

Lone gull on the otherwise empty diorama.

Lone gull on the otherwise empty diorama.

Sugimoto and the Isbjørn

Sugimoto and the Isbjørn

A preview of travels and dioramas to come! Next stop Oslo……

Unfortunately, I won’t have internet access again until the end of June.

So stay tuned…..

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Filed under Arctic, Artists and Designers, Museology, On exhibition, Travel

New York – Kara E. Walker’s marvelous sugar baby

I guess I will have to rave about Kara Walker’s works at the Domino Sugar factory in Brooklyn – everyone else has. And justifiably so!

It’s very impressive, a pleasure to experience and, perhaps most importantly, a huge event drawing constant crowds of all sorts of people. I always wish art events would draw the sort of crowds that a baseball game does. Kara has hit a home run with ‘a Subtlety’.

The doomed facade of the Domino Sugar refinery.

The doomed facade of the Domino Sugar refinery.

a Subtlety

“a Subtlety”

The long view along the old sugar saturated silo

The long view along the old sugar saturated silo

Sugar picaninny collapsing in his own sweetness

Sugar picaninny collapsing in his own sweetness

Her Majesty!

Her Majesty!

Watching the crowd was 1/2 the fun!

Watching the crowd was 1/2 the fun!

Sugar coated selfies!

Sugar coated selfies!

I wanted to nibble on her toes!

I wanted to nibble on her toes!

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New York – Ai Weiwei at Brooklyn Art Museum

I had a fruitful and engaging  few days in New York on my way to Oslo. There is always so much to see and do in this great city. It was my first American city way back in the winter of 1995/6 and it’s always a pleasure to return – it feels like home (or one of my  several homes around the world). It was great to see Ai Weiwei’s comprehensive solo show at the Brooklyn Art Museum. I’ve only ever seen one or two pieces live, so to have two whole floors of the museum dedicated to his work was such an inspiring treat. The exhibition including many of his older works which I have always admired for their excellent craftsmanship coupled with a nuanced reading of materiality.

Kippe, 2006. Ironwood from demolished Qing dynasty temples and iron parallel bars

Kippe, 2006.
Ironwood from demolished Qing dynasty temples and iron parallel bars.

Kippe, 2006. Detail.

Kippe, 2006. Detail.

At BAM there were 7 of a series of 81 unique, exquisitely crafted ‘Moon Chests’ built from huali (Chinese quince). Large wardrobe-like boxes which reveal complex patterns (resembling the phases of the moon) when viewed through their central apertures. They call to mind traditional moon viewing pavilions as well as magicians boxes.

Moon Chest, 2008

Moon Chest, 2008

Moon Chest, 2008 Detail

Moon Chest, 2008
Detail

Ai Weiwei often uses repetition in his work – a reference to both the huge population and lack of individualism in China. This is best shown in his more recent work  ‘He Xie’, consisting of 3,200 porcelain river crabs. He Xie is a homonym in Chinese referring to both the crabs and the notion of harmony which is part of the Communist Party slogan. Ai was famously unable to attend a huge 10,000 river crab feast in response to the demolishing of his Beijing studio as he was under house arrest.

He Xie. 2010.

He Xie. 2010.

Similarly his ‘Bowl of Pearls’ is a contemplation on the value of the individual within a huge conglomeration – and a delightfully sensuous work!

Bowl of Pearls. 2006

Bowl of Pearls. 2006

Bowl of Pearls. 2006 Detail

Bowl of Pearls. 2006
Detail

For me, the most evocative and moving works in the show were those he created in response to the tragic Sichuan earthquake on May 12, 2008 when an estimated 90,000 people died or went missing.

After the quake

After the quake

Ai Weiwei and his team bravely documented the shoddy building structures which were the main cause of so many fatalities and created several works to honor the dead and draw attention to the tragedy. They collected over 200 tons of concrete reinforcing rods which they shipped back to Beijing and used in several works. At BAM a single huge room was dedicated to ‘Straight’ - incorporating 73 tons of steel bar which had each been extracted from the ruins and painstakingly straightened by hand – an act that seems (in poignant contradiction) to both mirror  the official cover-up and to be an act of repair and restitution.

Straight. 2008-12

Straight. 2008-12

According to the wall label, “the large divide in the piece is meant to suggest a fissure in the ground and a gulf in values. The massive work serves as a reminder of the repercussions of the earthquake and expresses the artist’s concern over society’s ability to start afresh “almost as if nothing had happened.””

Straight. 2008-12 Detail

Straight. 2008-12
Detail

To add to the power and sadness of the work, Ai’s piece ‘Remembrance’ was playing constantly in the same space. This is a 3 hour and 41 minute recording of people from all over the world reading the list of names of the thousands of children who died in the earthquake.

Ai has said, “A name is the first and final marker of individual rights, one fixed part of the ever changing human world. A name is the most basic characteristic of our human rights: no mater how poor or how rich, all living people have a name, and it is endowed with good wishes, the expectant blessings of kindness and virtue.”

Moving, powerful and inspiring work. See it if you can!

 

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Northward Bound

I haven’t posted in a while. Too busy and not much to share with the wider world.

All that is about to change.

I’m hectically packing (and repacking) my gear for my next field trip.

To the Arctic Circle with the Arctic Circle Residency.

Flying to New York tomorrow morning. On to Oslo late next week and then off to the Svalbard Archipelago. To pootle around the islands aboard a 125ft three-masted barquentine sailing vessel with 20 other artists and scientists. I’m crazily excited and nervous.

More posts to come!

Bound for Svalbard

Bound for Svalbard

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Filed under Arctic, Boats and boatbuilding, Europe, Ocean, Travel

Pareidolia – Opening January 16th.

I have a new solo exhibition on the (very near) horizon.

Here’s the announcement from my gallery!

Please come to the opening if you are anywhere nearby.

Pareidolia: New Works by Donald Fortescue

OPENS January 16, 6:30-8PM, Artist Reception

EXHIBITS January 16 – February 22, 2014

Oakland Art Murmur Celebration on February 7, 6-9PM
Vessel Gallery, 471 25th Street, Oakland, CA 94612, 510 893 8800
Gallery Hours:  Tuesday through Saturday, 11-6PM
You are cordially invited to join us as we kick off the New Year with the new and exciting solo show “Pareidolia: New Works by Donald Fortescue.” This exhibit is a culmination of the last three years of work created through residency programs he’s completed between 2011 and 2013. I’m most excited to bring forth Donald Fortescue’s distinct vision shaped by an early career as a scientist which later blossomed into an artist and a professor of design and craft.  I perceive Donald retains and applies the scientific approach to lab or field work to his studio artwork.  These last few years he has gone on expeditions to Snowmass, Colorado, to the Headlands in Marin and Bolinas, California, to Iceland and even to his native land, Australia, to gather his artistic findings.  There he engages in the field as a naturalist: he systematically and creatively gathers materials/native findings, such as tree branches to whittle and carve, or records and documents findings and photos to take back to the studio to study, experiment with, sculpt into visual and aural artworks. We’re most excited to present the fascinating works and opportunities for discoveries originated by Fortescue’s journeys included in “Pareidolia.”  — Lonnie Lee
Maculata #4 (2013) Archival digital print  H 32.5” x 44”

Maculata #4 (2013)
Archival digital print
H 32.5” x 44”

“”Pareidolia” is the psychological phenomenon whereby a vague or random stimulus (often an image or sound) is perceived as significant or having recognizable form – classical examples being seeing the “man” in the moon (or the “rabbit pounding rice” if you are Japanese), the Shroud of Turin, and the “face” in the Cydonia region of Mars.Much of my recent work explores this phenomenon. I’m interested in how information or meaning is read in patterns formed in nature and by human culture and technology? Detailed close-up images dissolve on close inspection revealing their fractal qualities (self similarity at varying scales) and leaving space for our imagination. Similar fractal qualities are also revealed in the digital and physical processes used in creating the work. Is there a correspondence between processes in nature and human technical processes and systems of thought?Is the ‘signal’ distinguishable from the ‘noise’?  Or is it just our imagination?I use contemporary digital technologies such as image manipulation software, 3D scanning and digital printing, video and sound, combined with more traditional hand-making processes and compare the inherent qualities or ‘artifacts’ of these processes with natural processes of emergent complexity and pattern formation.Most of the work in this exhibition is made in response to specific locations in northern Iceland, the south-east coast of Australia, the Rocky Mountains near Aspen, Marin County California, and at Bartram’s Garden in Philadelphia. As an artist who worked professionally as a scientist for many years, I’m interested in the common ground between the methodologies and philosophy of science and art.”
Donald Fortescue

"On the level, #2" (2003 - 2013)  Study of installation, recycled redwood suspended in an array.

“On the level, #2″ (2003 – 2013)
Study of installation, recycled redwood suspended in an array.

                

EXHIBITION  January 16 – February 22, 2014
ARTIST RECEPTION / OPEN  Thursday, January 16, 6:30-8PMARTIST TALK SERIES  Saturday, February 8, 2-3:30PM, refreshments following
Donald will give a presentation of his residency work with slides, and open discussionCELEBRATIONS  Friday, February 7, 6-9:00PM during Oakland Art Murmur,
and 3rd Thursday, February 20, 6:30-8PM
Music Performance The Haydn Enthusiasts is a society of amateur and professional musicians who appreciate and celebrate the genius of Joseph Haydn. Filled with unlimited creativity, Haydn’s string quartets are pinnacles of the genre, as well as the originals. Their mission is to present each quartet as a consciously crafted performance.
Vessel Gallery is located in the heart of Oakland’s Uptown Arts District
Use 19th St. Station at BART - a 7 minute walk to our district; paid parking, and street parking available nearby.
For Press Inquiries / interviews or further information on our stable of artists, contact:Lonnie Lee
Founder / Director / Curator
info@vessel-gallery.com
PRESS ROOM:  http://www.vessel-gallery.com/pressroom.html
Phone: 510 893 8800
Vessel Gallery

Vessel Gallery

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the Estuary

It has been 0ver 10 years since my passion for sea-kayaking gave way to my passion for sailing and maintaining a folkboat, then the ownership and remodeling of a 1897 Victorian in West Oakland and most recently, to surfing. But all are connected with cultural histories and rich traditions of craftsmanship and of course, the ocean (which will most likely come through my Victorian home sometime soon as it is just 8′ above high water mark!). So I thought it was about time to get back into a kayak and get into the Bay – thanks to the crew at California Canoe and Kayak –  a Jack London instistution!

Head West!

Head West!

Oakland has such a great industrial port. There are huge chunks of steel in crazy colors from all over the world  temporarily passing through Oakland. You have to keep your eyes open as some of them do u-turns  the middle of the Estuary, heaved about by giant tugs, whose backwash is enough to make your sit up and notice.

The ships are astounding – the scale, the vibrant colors, the textures revealing the structures beneath, the markings which are a mix of signage and the patina, and the various pieces of equipment, portholes, and apertures seeping strange stains!  Delicious! And then there is all the human history and thinking about exploration movement, transport, the size of the world, sustainability.

And on top of all that its sunny out and the seals seem friendly!

Some images from the waterline!

Red Hull

Red Hull

Blue Hull

Blue Hull

Dry dock

Dry dock

CGM Libra #2

CGM Libra #2

CGM Libra

CGM Libra

Blue Hull

Blue Hull

And the dock works and shoreline flotsam and jetsam can be engaging too.

Dry dock

Dry dock

Tug snout

Tug snout

Fender

Fender

What’s not to like?

“Concrete and rubber and steel, Oh my!”

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Filed under Bayarea Gems, Boats and boatbuilding