Art in the Wilderness

Wildlife artists Olly and Suzi have travelled to the high Arctic, desert and jungle to push themselves and their art to the limit. The difficulties they have encountered have become intrinsic to their work.

  • Photography: Olly and Suzi

In 1994 we moved out of our studio in London to embark on a 12-year period of extended field expeditions. We found that working together in austere conditions on land and in the ocean imbued our art with a sense of place and an authenticity, and spontaneity, that would have been hopelessly contrived had we attempted to produce it from the comfort of our studio.

There, out of our comfort zone and on the food chain, we were able to gain a sense of our subjects and to form a better idea of ourselves. We realised that there is no ‘us and them’, but that we are animals too – albeit ungainly, slow and out of our element.

Working in these harsh conditions – from the jungle to arid deserts and the high Arctic – meant that we, as observers, could experience the animals’ environment, and as a result we lost direct control. Out in the wild our paintings froze and got muddy, were ripped, bitten, torn, soaked in salt spray and blood and stained by animal tracks. Trip by trip, the marks we gathered began to tell their own story.

Working in these harsh conditions – from the jungle to arid deserts and the high Arctic – meant that we, as observers, could experience the animals’ environment, and as a result we lost direct control. Out in the wild our paintings froze and got muddy, were ripped, bitten, torn, soaked in salt spray and blood and stained by animal tracks. Trip by trip, the marks we gathered began to tell their own story.

Out in the wild our paintings froze and got muddy, were ripped, bitten, torn, soaked in salt spray and blood and stained by animal tracks.

Over the past 30 years, our shared experiences in the wilderness have given us a glimpse of the daily challenges facing endangered animals and the habitats in which they fight to survive. We’ve never felt a sense of finite expertise, of understanding the whole story, and the more we push ourselves into life in the wild, the more we realise we have to learn.

Experiencing that first hand, forming our own ‘ground truth’ – our own unique perspective on the natural world – is vital to our art. It’s not something that can be gained through watching television documentaries or at the zoo and that, for us, makes it worth the journey.

Article taken from
Articles

Further Reading

Story Island

Despite Iceland’s small population of 331,380, the average print run for fiction is 1,000 copies – a per capita equivalent of one million in the USA.

To the Congo

Children play on abandoned planes at Goma Airport during a rare time when no security forces, or the UN, were stationed there, in this series by Magnum photojournalist Michael Christopher Brown.

Tree Life

Robert Macfarlane reflects on a wistful archetype of childhood adventure and backyard wilderness: the humble tree house.

Tokyo Flooding

Photographer Christoffer Rudquist explores the temples and tunnels of Tokyo’s vast network of storm drains. Built between 1996 and 2003, this $3 billion structure deploys ingenious architecture to guard against catastrophic flooding.

Up Close: Astra 3B

Simon Norfolk is the first artist to have been invited to watch the production and launch of a satellite from start to finish. He presents his unique perspective from the viewing station for the Astra 3B.

Living Free

When Devi Asmadiredja arrived off the bus in Georgia’s Pankisi valley, she had never travelled, spoke no Georgian or Chechen, and knew no one. Living among the locals, she soon began spending weeks walking alone in the mountains.
Browse by Category