Ashley Frost

Tell us a bit about yourself as an artist

I work as an exhibiting artist primarily in painting and drawing from my studio in Alexandria. In addition I work part time as an arts educator teaching painting and drawing from art schools in Sydney.

In my early 20’s I studied painting at the National Art School (NAS) and at the end of 2nd year was fortunate to be offered a summer job to Antarctica. I worked aboard the refitted Russian Icebreaker the Kapitan Khlebnikov as a zodiac driver ferrying tourist passengers to and from the ship to various sub Antarctic islands and mainland Antarctica. The Khlebnikov sailed from Cape Town to the ‘far side’ of Antarctica and returned 30 days later to Perth. It was a seminal experience and helped shape my art practice to what it is today.

Following my graduation in 1994 I had my first solo exhibtion in 1996. The show’s title was Eclectic Antarctica and the paintings where inspired  by this first voyage to Antarctica in 1993. Since this important first show I have exhibited in a number of solo and group shows in Sydney and Melbourne as well as internationally with solo and group shows in New York, Hong Kong, Guangzhou and Tokyo.

Why did you want to go to Antarctica?

The summer job to Antarctica was offered with very short notice so was unplanned and spontaneous. My mother worked as a travel agent in New York and had a contact for the staffing of the Khlebnikov that needed at short notice a zodiac driver for the voyage. It was perfect timing for art school, I needed the money and it felt like a wild adventure so I decided to go. I knew very little about the ‘great white continent’ and at the it was a relatively exotic place with tourist numbers a small percentage of what they are today.

When did you go to Antarctica? What were the trips?

I have travelled to Antarctica six times with my first voyage in 1993 and my most recent in 2019. During my first voyage I worked a s a Zodiac driver. I had just finished second year at art school and was painting and drawing at every spare moment. I decided not take a camera on this first voyage aiming to capture and comprehend the vast wilderness through drawing and paint. Low passenger numbers due to it being the maiden voyage meant I could paint and draw everyday. I found time to run impromptu art classes for the passengers and mount an exhibition of around 20 gouache paintings in the lounge on the voyage home. The classes and exhibition all sat well with the existing onboard education program where biologists, ornithologists, historians and glaciologists presented lectures and assisted with passenger landings.

So following my first voyage I was contacted a few months later by US based operator Quark Expeditions with an interesting opportunity. I was asked to develop an artist residency program for all of Quark’s five ships operating in the Arctic and Antarctica. This amounted to around 65 voyages per year requiring 15 artists. In addition to running workshops and developing work for their own practice, artists were asked to develop content for what was then a CD log from the voyage. This is where my former PhD supervisor Professor Brogan Bunt enters the story. Brogan, whose father Professor John Bunt was the first SCUBA diver in Antarctica, was interested in travelling as an artist in residence. At the time Brogan was finishing off a project in which he was creating an interactive CD with a virtual tour of a valley in Turkey. During our discussion it was seen that Brogan’s interactive CD would be an ideal platform for an interactive CD log that Quark could give to passengers as a memento (and ideal marketing tool) from their voyage. From Brogan’s innovative interactive CD we moved to an interactive DVD log with high quality photography and video. The residency program continued to grow and after finishing with Quark in 2010, I worked for a year with with Silver Sea Cruises and a further eight years with Norwegian Hurtigruten Cruises. This enabled over 400 artists from Australia and around the world to travel to some of the most remote areas of the Polar regions.

What did you think of the experience? What were the challenges? What interested you particularly?  Any particular stories from the voyage?

My first voyage was to the ‘far side’ of Antarctica, a vast and remote region that takes around seven sea days to get there. Only full fledged icebreakers are able to access this area where sea ice in summer can be metres thick. The MV Kapitan Khlebnikov departed from Cape Town at around 6pm on November 29, 1993 on her maiden voyage. Within hours the ship was pushing through a storm with an increasing swell of 12metres. By nightfall the swell was around 20 metres. As an icebreaker the Khlebnikov had  a rounded hull as opposed to a standard v-hull of most ocean faring ships. So she was not ideal in rough seas, instead designed to cut through sea ice. Additional to the rounded hull is the high superstructure of Khlebnikov, which is engineered to literally add weight to the front of the hull to help cut through ice. With a rough sea, rounded hull and high superstructure the result was a shipped that rolled like some sort of wild amusement ride. The ship’s captain  Peter Golikov was concerned as the ship was rolling heavily, almost to the point of 45 degrees; an impossible angle where the engine oil is unable to lubricate the engines causing an automatic shutdown. The Khlebnikov had never fared beyond the relatively calm Russian waters and this was the Southern Ocean, a notoriously wild region of water that runs unchecked by any large landmass around the circumference of Antarctica. All passengers where restricted to their cabins for the first couple of days with many staff and crew suffering from sea sickness.