From Polar Bear to Penguin - An Artistic Antarctic Adventure

PUBLISHED: 13:32 19 August 2011 | UPDATED: 19:52 20 February 2013

From Polar Bear to Penguin - An Artistic Antarctic Adventure

From Polar Bear to Penguin - An Artistic Antarctic Adventure

Sculptor Mark Coreth and artist Andrew Stock share a fascination with wildlife and between them have produced two very distinct bodies of work...

Andrews Antarctic Adventure

One of the many privileges of painting the natural world is receiving unexpected and exciting invitations. And so when a Commodore in the Royal Navy recommended me for a tour on HMS Endurance, the Antarctic Survey Ship, I was delighted to be accepted as an artist in residence for the month of November 2008.

Having flown into the Falklands, courtesy of the RAF, it wasnt long before I was aboard a pitching and rolling ship; we were heading due south, crossing the infamous Drake Passage, escorted by a variety of albatrosses and petrels.

Living with the Royal Navy for a month was an experience in itself, but the landscapes and wildlife of the Antarctic Peninsula that greeted me were uniquely spectacular and my intention was to sketch whenever there was an opportunity.

Every morning the artists plan for the day was part of the operational briefing; some days the ship would be surveying, putting teams ashore, ice breaking or deploying the BBC Wildlife Unit who were filming Frozen Planet and I would paint views from the ship. Other days I would be deployed this entailed being fully ready on the flight deck at a given time, Army Bergen rucksack packed with painting kit and emergency rations and dressed to the nines by the Royal Marines on board. The final items of clothing were the life-support suit, lifejacket, helmet and goggles for the exhilarating flight over sea and ice in the Lynx helicopter. And so I would be dropped off (always with a guardian Marine) on a distant island, able to sit and sketch the wildlife, including Gentoo, Chinstrap and Adlie penguins, Weddell and Elephant seals, and make quick watercolours of the stunning views. Apart from the breathtaking, remote beauty of these excursions, it was the utter silence that I remember now, once the helicopter had left me.

A Hebridean Winter

My next trip in search of inspiration entailed living for three weeks on an uninhabited Outer Hebridean Island in mid-winter. Initially it appeared very different from the Antarctic, but there were comparisons in the bleak, treeless landscapes and daunting seas that faced me. And this time there was no company, save for my dog.

Staying alone in the only house on the island had benefits; I could work entirely to my own timetable, getting up with the dawn and going to bed soon after dark there was no electricity. The early morning views were often stunning, with calm waters and magnificent distant vistas through to Skye and the Cuillins and beyond to the Scottish mainland.

I would watch and sketch eagles, harriers and peregrines as well as many waders and wildfowl including large numbers of wintering barnacle geese, and was fortunate to spot several otters.

I was reluctant to leave; I had tuned in to the beat of this island, the weather and tides, the bird calls and the occasional howling gale. It held an extraordinary unspoilt peace and to be part of it, albeit briefly, had been a huge privilege.

Marks Arctic Safari

It may be the fact that so many of my formative years were spent on or near the Equator that has driven my thoughts further afield to an extreme, very delicate and utterly spellbinding part of the world, namely the Arctic. I have travelled there on a couple of occasions at different times of the year but in May 2009 I went to Bylot Island with my guide Dave Reid and his two Inuit guides, Abraham and Patrick, both hunters of the old school; real characters and fine tutors.

The Arctic cold was firmly in command. My studio was the ice and ice became my sculpting material. The learning curve was as steep as the Bylot Island cliffs that plunged vertically into the sea ice below. The beauty was beyond anything I had ever experienced: from the craggy rocks behind, to the flatness of the ice beyond. I was living and working on the ice and carving into the side of bergs.

The land and seascape was our hunting ground in my quest to find the polar bear. It was the backdrop to the thrill of seeing fresh tracks on the ice, and a site of mayhem and drama where a ringed seal had been caught and devoured by a hungry bear. The excitement of the quest was high but the vastness of the ocean gave me a sense of reality. A polar bear becomes a very small beast compared to its surroundings. The feeling of fulfilment when sculpting a polar bear on the sea ice in the depths of the cold makes one weep with joy and elation.

To work in that environment is truly amazing. To learn from the Inuit first hand is an education. It is easy enough to sculpt something beautiful or dramatic but the more I saw, the more I learnt and the more I realised how incomplete a body of work it would be if I failed to sculpt the issue of a warming Arctic.

I learnt how different the ice conditions are now. The freeze is later, the melt earlier and the ice less certain to the hunter or traveller. Ice is not only in command of the environment but vital to it. I therefore decided to try to combine the longevity of bronze with the extreme fragility of ice in one sculpture.

Return to Africa

So far I have focused unashamedly on my Arctic experiences as they have been pivotal in my recent sculptural life. However, interspersed between trips to the north, and fun and games in my studio, I returned on a couple of occasions to my beloved East Africa. Kenya was home to me in my formative years, and I was brought up on a farm on the Equator.

On one occasion I led a sculptural safari to the Serengeti moving from one camp to another. We pretty much had the complete guidebook to African wildlife at our disposal to study and sculpt. Whether I am sculpting my own work or helping others with theirs, my mental camera is always recording ideas and sights to be worked on back in the studio.

My most recent expedition was a return to India to revisit the tiger with the aim of creating a body of work to talk of the plight of the tiger, its jungle and the other wildlife. Throughout this exhibition you will see some of the delights and excitements of viewing the tiger and the resulting sculptures.

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