I first encountered David Bellamy almost by accident. The husband of a friend of my wife’s was a freelance designer and happened to remark that I ought to see the book he was working on, which was The Wild Places of Britain. It was amazing. I followed it up with the publisher, struck a deal and sold an awful lot of copies. I said of it then that David visits hidden and out-of-the-way places and brings back their atmosphere, people and stories.
Since then, there have been many more books, mostly instructional, and the work he does for exhibition has only occasionally been seen in print.
The Arctic is one of the world’s last great wildernesses and getting to it imposes a huge number of difficulties. Simply existing there is also a challenge and carries very real dangers. Imagine, then, trying to paint in freezing winds, snow and ice when your body and materials are as unwilling to co-operate as they can be. David has a reputation for painting on the edge and has been shown hanging off ropes on desolate crags before. This, however, is a whole different ballgame.
If this was just a tale of endurance, it would have little to recommend it. Sure, learning that gin is a great antifreeze (for your painting water) is all part of the fun that David manages to make this seem, but if the art wasn’t up to scratch, the book would be meaningless.
It’s therefore a pleasure to report that David is at the peak of his powers. The conditions that make the Arctic a challenge to visit also make photography difficult and painting captures the landscapes better than the camera ever can. Few of us will ever make it this far north, and that’s as it should be. Wildernesses like this can only be preserved by their remoteness and lack of visitors. The Antarctic is already being endangered by tourism.
The value of the book, therefore, is the tale it tells, in both words and pictures, of a beautiful region that is filled with mystery, unfamiliar creatures, and inhabitants who live on the edge and have strange legends. This is both a traveller’s tale and a love story and David is perhaps the only person alive who can tell it so effectively. His paintings, all exquisitely reproduced, are breath-taking and the words he weaves round them create the nearest impression of actually being there that most of us will, or should, ever achieve.
This is a major contribution to science as well as to art and a magnificent production of which all involved should be proud.
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