Monday, January 16, 2012

Barry Smith's Antarctica

My friend Barry Smith, and his wife Catherine opened an Antarctic exhibition last week in exactly the same gallery  (ArtsPost, Hamilton, NZ) where I held my Antarctic exhibition last August.  Barry is a printmaker and Catherine is a painter and they have both been to Antarctica, most recently in 2006. Barry also spent the summer of 1959-60 working on expeditions down there, which he sometimes writes about on his interesting blog, Pukawaparadise. A couple of years ago, Barry allowed me to share a few of his photos from that period on Bibliophilia here.

Antarctica: Dreams and Discoveries includes five expressionist paintings of icebergs and blizzards on the sea ice by Catherine Smith.  I was particularly enamoured with Barry Smith's seven woodcuts, which reference the events taking place on the ice a century ago as Amundsen and Scott raced to the Pole.  In the photo above Barry is standing next to his print, 18th January 1912, which is very moving for Antarctica history enthusiasts for me, as it suggests we are looking over Scott's shoulder as he arrives at the South Pole and sees the Norwegian flag left by Amundsen who was first to visit, only a month earlier.  All the poignancy of that moment is conveyed in the stark silhouette of the hooded figure and the bleak view in front of him.

My two favourite prints were the simplest.  Cold Way to the Plateau, and embossed woodcut with no ink, no colour, just the relentless white of the paper and snow marked only by light and shadow falling across the texture of the embossing.  Eleven Miles Short is all grey and grim, once again expressing perfectly the tragedy of Scott's expedition. Eleven miles short refers to the distance Scott and his party died from the nearest cache containing the food and fuel they desperately needed.

The story of Scott and Amundsen has been told so many times, in so many ways that you might think it worn threadbare as an explorer's socks at the end of his journey. But Barry's images are not interpretations of well known photographs, nor simply illustrating diaries or histories.  His imagined perspectives are evocative and moving, satisfyingly authoritative and imaginative. I'm sure that even people unfamiliar with the tales of the Heroic Age will be stirred by the stark and simple beauty of Barry Smith's Antarctica.

No comments: