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SPRI Greenland and Baffin Island Expedition: September 2018


Simon Pierse (seated), aboard the Akademik Sergey Vavilov September 2018


SPRI Greenland and Baffin Island Expedition: 4-15 September 2018 When my brother invited me to join him on a Friends of the Scott Polar Research Institute (SPRI) expedition to Greenland and Baffin Island I jumped at the opportunity. But I didn’t know much about what to expect. For years, I had poured over the atlas, mesmerized by the huge islands of the Canadian Arctic, laid out like some half-finished jigsaw puzzle waiting to be pushed together. But could it really be that Greenland was so big? Tues 4th September Touched down from Copenhagen at 11.40am and checked into Hotel Kangerlussuaq on the southwest Greenland coast. Kangerlussuaq still feels haunted by the legacy of the U.S. Base and re-fueling station it used to be. The Museum looks like the film set for a cold-war movie. Down at “Dog City”, the Huskies look cute but we are told not to touch. Some of them are 50% wolf! Wed 5th September To Russell Glacier for a walk on the ice cap – an enormous ice dome up to 3km thick, that covers much of Greenland. The vastness of it all is difficult to comprehend, especially when it is covered with a benign looking layer of snow. We scrunch about, but it’s not really cold at all. I’m told that I look as if I am taking a stroll in Kensington Gardens. Then to the port at 4.30pm to see the majestic Akademik Sergey Vavilov resting serenely in the fjord. She looks the business. We join members of a Canadian group who will be our shipmates for the next ten days. All aboard. Getting out of the Zodiac I learn the “sailors’ grip”. Then a fizzy wine welcome and briefing followed by a lifeboat drill in which we get to climb into the lifeboat. Dinner and finally bed.


Thurs 6th September Breakfast at 8.00am. No chance of missing it because every day we get an upbeat ‘Good MORNING Vietnam!!’ type wake-up call from Boris our leader over the cabin’s Tannoy system. After breakfast to the Zodiacs at 9.45am for the onshore visit to Sisimuit. Visited the cultural centre, then to a good outdoor/indoor museum with historic buildings re-sited and preserved – all accessible through the whale jawbone archway entrance. Friday 7th September Up at 7.00am. Breakfast at 7.30. A beautiful sunny day! Onto the Zodiacs to cruise in and around the floating icebergs in the limpid, still blue waters of Ilulissat / Jacobshavn Icefjord. Our Zodiac team wins the competition to collect the biggest chunk of crystal-clear ice for lunchtime drinks. I learn that the parts of the icebergs which are blue-green in colour are made up of molecules that have been more compressed over time, deep within a glacier. Sight of a humpback whale feeding near the icebergs. I walk along the boardwalk to get a great view of the ice-clogged fjord. Looking out on the beauty of it all makes me feel like a figure in one of Caspar David Friedrich’s paintings. Then back along the boardwalk to the museum. I like boardwalks. For me they are emblematic of modern tourism. We walk a few inches above the ground, leaving its fragile beauty undisturbed. No footprints. Boardwalks are also a fine subject for a painting, especially when they zig-zag across the terrain. Later, we enjoy a local beer outside a bar, flavoured with Greenlandic herbs, and then back to the ship for a fabulous on-deck barbeque, the sun still streaming down.


Above: collecting ice; top right: main-man Boris photographing me photographing him; bottom right: cruising in Ilulissat Icefjord


Sat 8th September Out at 9.30am to explore Qeqertarsuaq on Disko Island. Dawdling along across springy, tundra type vegetation, I am enjoying the sunshine and fresh air. So slowly that I never reach the point where another whale is spotted a little way out, feeding around some icebergs. Back along the shore to get closer to some other icebergs which are beautifully back lit by the sun. “Sun diamonds”, someone says. After lunch on board, the weather starts to get chilly and the waves are up. Time to baton down the hatches. Sun 9th September Breakfast at 8.30am. We are at sea, crossing the Davis Strait towards Baffin Island. My artist friend and former folk legend David Paskett would break into song at the mention of Baffin Bay if he were here. But he’s not, so here instead is a rendition of a traditional folk song about the Franklin expedition: Down in the presentation room in the bowels of the ship, a very interesting talk on Sir George Back FRS and his exploration of the Canadian arctic. Afterwards, I retire to the cabin to paint. A few whales are spotted en route. Butterfish in the evening with a yummy bottle of buttery Chardonnay to match, chosen by our excellent barman Dane. Never did work out whether that is pronounced Dane as in Great Dane, or Dan-e as in Danny, Champion of the World. Not that it seems to matter. He knows us and our cabin number (404) and discretely adds our bottle to the bill to be paid for at the end of the trip. Mon 10th September We cross the Canadian border. Then depart in Zodiacs for Qikiqtarjuaq – which used to be called Broughton Island until 1998. The people who live here haven’t had a visit from a cruise ship for two years. It’s a lonely place, but authentic. We walk along rutted dirt roads to a cairn on a hillock. At the cultural centre, there is a performance by two boys doing high kicks and some haunting throat singing by two girls who face each other and hold hands as they sing, swaying to the rhythm of their song. They


have come straight from work and are still in their everyday clothes which somehow makes their performance all the more genuine. Tues 11th September Sunshine Fjord. Right on the Arctic Circle! Not much sunshine here today, but then I learn that the fjord is named after the ship Suneshine which, with her sister-ship Mooneshine, explored this region on expeditions led by John Davis. It is too rough to go out on the Zodiacs, so I paint, Richard reads, has a sauna, and then we have a few fingers of Shackleton whisky in our cabin. After dinner, a talk by Nicholas Jones, SPRI artist in residence, followed by the most fantastic display of the aurora borealis. Weds 12th September Up at seven. Some narwhals are spotted from the bridge. Breakfast, then all aboard the Zodiacs to Cape Mercy. Ashore to see snow buntings, beautiful, intricate dwarf vegetation underfoot and fresh water pools of icy crystal. Six people are photographing a rock, and then, suddenly, all about face … binoculars trained upon the distant form of a polar bear, spotted, high up on a field of snow at the end of the u-shaped valley, now looking and feeling very much like an amphitheater. She has hollowed out a den for herself in the snow to hunker down over the winter and give birth to her cubs. Our cameras focus on her … a small yellow spot against the snow. Then back via another polar bear – this one dead and reduced to a scattering of bleached bones and the odd claw – to the seashore where the challenge is on for a polar plunge. I go in first and want to shout out: “Come on in, the water’s wonderful!”, but I can’t get it out because my teeth won’t stop chattering.


Thurs 13th September 7.30am and sleet is falling. Retreat to the cabin to finish the bottle of Shackleton’s whisky and day-dream about the adventures of others. Richard is reading Michael Palin’s new book on the Erebus while I paint. After dinner, all on deck to watch the northern lights perform for us again. A superb lightshow over the water, laid on just for us, it seems. Fri 14th September An excursion to Charles Francis Hall Bay – another beautiful glacial valley on the southeast coast of Baffin Island. Sunny and warm except when travelling across the water in the Zodiac. Where we land seems like a beautiful spot for a picnic although I notice that One Ocean has armed “blue shirts” at look out posts, watching out for polar bears. Apparently, they can out-run a horse when chasing prey. Can’t really visualize that and I feel more like I am in a character in C.S. Lewis’s Voyage of the Dawntreader. Into the Zodiac again to skirt around to a neighbouring bay. A walrus pops up his head and I see ‘crocodile ice’ floating in the water which is all dimply like hammered silver. A beautiful final dinner with the Captain of the Akademik Sergey Vavilov as guest of honour. Sat 15th September Time to pack. We disembark the ship and say goodbye to all our “blue shirt” friends who are staying onboard. A long Zodiac ride over to Iqualit where the weather feels pretty cold at one degree above freezing. We board a small turbo prop plane to Ottawa where the weather is a whole 30 degrees warmer! At baggage claim I give our “blue shirt” boss Boris a big farewell bear-hug. A coach takes us to the cosseted comfort of the luxurious Fairmont Hotel. Thanks to Celine Pickard and the Friends of the Scott Polar Research Institute for this opportunity, to Angie Butler and Cris Mason of Ice Tracks for looking after us so well and to my brother Richard for sharing the adventure. Simon Pierse, May 2019























2019 2018 2009-10 2008–9 2008 2004 1999 1998 1997 1997 1996 1993 1991


Icebergs & Inselbergs, Alpine Club, London Tree Portraits and other paintings, Long Gallery, Dunmoochin Life-Line: a drawing retrospective, School of Art Galleries Sketches from Gran Paradiso, Alpine Club, London Paintings in the Long Gallery, Dunmoochin, Melbourne A Sometimes Cloud, Old Fire Engine House, Ely Paintings of Ladakh, Oxford Gallery, Oxford Recent Paintings, Center Gallery, Glen Arbor, Michigan A Sunburnt Country, Commonwealth Institute, London Between Two Worlds: Paintings of Ladakh, MOMA, Wales The Empty Landscape, National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth St. Martin’s Gallery, Melbourne Phoenix Gallery, Lavenham

SELECTED RECENT GROUP EXHIBITIONS 2019 2019 2018 2018 2017 2016 2016 2016 2015 2013

New English Art Club, Annual Exhibition, Mall Galleries, London Australian Watercolour Institute, 96th Annual Exhibition, Sydney Xu Zhimo Poetry and Art Festival, King’s College, Cambridge Biennial International Prize ‘Marche d’Acqua’ Fabriano Watercolour 2018, Museo della Carta e della Filigrana, Fabriano, Italy Synthetic-Color: Qingdao International Watercolor Biennale Qingdao Art Museum, China Mountain Arts Festival, Rheged, Cumbria Glaciers, Alpine Club, London Shakespeare: a celebration, RWS & RE collaborative exhibition, Bankside Gallery and 2017 tour to California Lutheran University, USA Mountain Arts Festival, Rheged, Cumbria RWS in Malta, Auberge d’Italie, Valetta

Elected honorary member of the Australian Watercolour Institute 2018 Artist in Residence, Dunmoochin Foundation 2017 Artist in Residence, FIAF, Farindola 2014 Visiting Fellow, University of Melbourne 2014 Elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts 2009-12 Vice-president of the Royal Watercolour Society 2007 Artist in Residence, Dunmoochin Foundation 2007 AHRC research grant award
 2005 Artist Fellow, La Trobe University, Melbourne 2005 Elected associate member of the Alpine Club 2003 Elected member of the Royal Watercolour Society 2000-1 Australian Bicentennial Fellowship 1998 Artist in Residence, GAAA, Michigan 1992-3 Artist in Residence, Melbourne Grammar School WORK IN PUBLIC COLLECTIONS Alpine Club Dunmoochin Foundation Heritage Malta La Trobe University, Melbourne MOMA Wales Museo della Carta e della Filigrano, Fabriano National Library of Wales Qingdao Art Museum Royal Collection RWS Diploma Collection School of Art Collection, Aberystwyth University College London



Taiwan International Watercolor Exhibition, Taipei Cultural Center, New York, Robeson Gallery; Penn State University; Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall, Taipei 2009 Australian Watercolour Institute 86th Annual Exhibition Wagner Gallery, Sydney 2009 Past Present and Future: 50 Years of Watercolour Painting in Wales, National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth and Taliesin Arts Centre, Swansea University 2007 Institute of Contemporary Art (ICIA), Mumbai, India 2007 Living Artists of the Alpine Club, Alpine Club, London 2007 150 Years of the Alpine Club, John Mitchell Fine Paintings, Old Bond Street, London 2005–6 Wales Drawing/Arlunio Cymru, Aberystwyth & Wrexham Arts Centres 2005 BBC Radio and the Artist Competition, Bankside Gallery London 2004 Then and Now: 200 Years of the Royal Watercolour Society, Bankside Gallery, London 2002–3 Wales Drawing Biennale, Clwyd Theatr Cymru, Mold, Aberystwyth Arts Centre, Oriel Wexham 2002 Watercolour Society of Wales, Y Tabernacl, MOMA, Wales 2002 Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours, Mall Galleries, London 1998 Royal Society of British Artists, Mall Galleries, London 1998 Watercolour Society of Wales, MOMA, Wales 1997–8 Wales Drawing Biennale, Aberystwyth, Wrexham, Cardiff & Swansea 1996 Drawings For All Competition, Gainsborough’s House, Sudbury & Tour 1995 Wexas Travel Painting Competition, Mall Galleries, London 1994 Singer & Friedlander Competition, Mall Galleries, London 1994 Laing Landscape Competition 1993 London Group 80th Anniversary Exhibition, Barbican Gallery, London 1993 Aberystwyth Artists, Deffet Francis Gallery, Swansea 1991 University of Essex Gallery 30

Images and Text Š Simon Pierse 2019 31


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