I have been lucky enough to go the Himalaya several times.
The first was on a travel scholarship from The Slade when I was 20. I applied to go to Tibet after seeing a small photograph in a newspaper; I fell in love with that image and subsequently fell in love with Tibet.
I had already done a significant amount of high altitude travelling before Tibet – these were the days before flying was a climate conscious dilemma – but somehow Tibet hit me with a freshness that I didn’t expect, and that I have never forgotten.
I went overland from Nepal, connected at that time with a single-width unpaved dirt road. With sheer drops on one side, a rock face on the other and huge trucks looming in the opposite direction it made an incredibly hairy journey. I have memories of looking out of the window like a child - not daring to look down and not quite believing what was up. Were those really mountain peaks hiding in the highest clouds? To this day, I still look at high clouds and remember that feeling of wonder.
Coming over the Himalaya and onto the Tibetan plateau was like arriving in heaven (a description many people have used for the experience). The clouds gave way to the most immense and sublime landscape I have ever seen. The vastness and clarity of light stunned me. As did the uncanny similarity to the work I had been making back home; work that was intuitive and not geographically specific. I felt immediately at home and was overcome with a desire to run and play – which is almost impossible to do in an unacclimatised body!
At every opportunity in Tibet I explored. I got up at dawn – half frozen – to see what could be found. I skipped up mountains before anyone could ask for a permit and strayed into areas that were definitely forbidden. I am possibly the only person who has woken up to a view of Everest from a pig-sty (the result of an extreme miscalculation which left me with a severe chest infection and green weeping toes, but thankfully not the hyperthermia I deserved). Looking back, I was incredibly naïve but I was so hungry for the landscape and unstoppable in my desire to consume it.
I took a small easel and set of paints which, especially as a lone female, drew a lot of attention and meant it was hard to get work done. Eventually I reduced this to a small drawing book and some pencils. I then disguised myself (badly) as a man, and things got easier.
I was aware of the complicated political situation with China and tried to be respectful, patronising only Tibetan establishments and engaging fully with the Tibetan culture, but I desperately wanted to be able to communicate. Tibetan classes were few and far between but as soon as I got home, I enrolled in Chinese evening classes and spent the next six years trying – in vain – to master the language. Sadly, I have never been back to Tibet to put this in action. I desperately want to, but have very conflicted feelings about it.
I have been back to other parts of the Himalaya, including to Nepal where my first steps on the Annapurna circuit were backwards when I toppled into a large ditch; weighed down by an overloaded bag of creative bulk. Amongst the many wonders of this trip, was an enticing peep into Lo Monthang, which has been noted, underlined, highlighted and put into italics, for the future…
I also spent a glorious two weeks in the Himalaya on my honeymoon in Ladakh. My husband and I climbed a 6100m peak, the surrounding area of which have inspired many of my paintings. He flew home and I went on for several more weeks to the Zanskar range and over to the border with Pakistan which has produced a lot of work.
The Chinese classes were not totally in vain. In 2006, before I met my husband, and heartbroken from a relationship ‘error’ I made my way across China, alone and terribly miserable, from the far West to the far East. A lot of work came from this trip as I went to some of the most bleak terrain I have ever been to.
Below are some of the works made on-site in these places and in the studio on my return.