Artistic bid to save the albatross

St. Boswells artist Chris Rose.
St. Boswells artist Chris Rose.

THE latest paintings by award-winning Bowden artist Chris Rose go on show in London next month.

The exhibition represents more than 18 months of work on sketches he made in South Georgia last year for a joint show with fellow artist John Gale to help save albatrosses. He said: “I’m pleased with what I’ve done.”

One of his paintings – a wandering albatross in stormy seas – is being auctioned and also made into a print to raise more money for the RSPB’s Save the Albatross Campaign.

Chris told TheSouthern: “We sailed through a hurricane in our little boat and that painting is inspired from that experience. It is one of my favourites and people seem to really like it.”

He first saw the Southern Ocean island six years ago on a cruise.

He explained: “John and I wanted to get down there and do something a bit more meaningful – and that’s how we got onto a yacht with albatross research scientists. We were able to spend a month there, we could spend a day on one beach if we wanted, we had time.

“We wanted to visit the place again for our own artistic satisfaction and inspiration, but we also wanted to give something back.

“The trip was in January last year and it has taken this long to put it all together. It all came back as I worked because I had photographs and I did field paintings and sketches on the spot.”

And he enthused: “Looking at some of them, you can feel the sand still stuck in the paint from the beach. The images are so stunning they are burned onto your retinae.

“You have these ideas for painting when you are standing watching this stuff, I was itching to get back into the studio.”

The exhibition at the Air Gallery, Dover Street, London, runs from October 3-15. The donated painting will be auctioned next spring.

On his website, Chris explains: “My desire to paint wildlife, particularly birds, stems from a deep fascination and respect for the natural world and a wish to share my excitement for the subject through my paintings. I am inspired by the light, colours, textures and patterns which are found in nature, even in the most ordinary and often overlooked corners of the landscape.”

He told us: “It’s not just birds I love, it’s other wildlife too – whales, seals, dolphins – and South Georgia is such a special place. This is where Shackleton ended up after one of his epic voyages. It’s a really stunning place and the wildlife is unafraid of humans, by and large, so comes close to you, it’s phenomenal.

“You can’t match standing at the edge of a King Penguin colony of quarter of a million birds all shuffling towards you to have a look at you or standing feet away from a wandering albatross on its nest – they are the most amazing birds.”

The RSPB campaign is mostly involved in trying to change the practice of long line fishing in the Southern Ocean where 100,000 albatrosses are said to die every year, caught on baited hooks.

Chris said: “They are having some good results. There are very cheap effective ways of mitigating deaths on long lines, but funding is required and we are creating funds to pay the albatross task force to do their work.”

Boats can trail up to 130km long fishing lines with 40,000 baited hooks for tuna and other fish.

“The albatross can’t breed fast enough to replace these very high losses – they are long-lived birds and some of the large ones only have a chick every two years. Eighteen out of the 22 species of albatross, pictured top of page, are threatened with extinction,” said Chris.

Born in Uganda, Chris had always drawn and painted as a child. But he was going to be a biologist before a temporary job as an illustrator in Dorset sealed his future as an artist, a vocation for which he has won awards including, when in his 20s, the British Birds’ Bird Illustrator of the Year Award (1986) and in 1991, the European Bird Artist of the Year accolade.

Secretary of the Society of Wildlife Artists (SWLA), and a former governor of the Federation of British Artists (FBA), Chris has exhibited widely throughout the UK and overseas and is regarded as one of the leading bird illustrators in the UK.

He has lived in the Borders for over 20 years.