Travels With My Paintbox, by Natasha Cross

Tasha in chile

London based AQ Natasha is a painter with a passion for travel – she loves to go to far away places with a paintbrush and a sketchbook! If she’s not painting, she is generally swimming, running or planning her next adventure! You can follow her current travelling art project across South America on her Instagram @natashacrossart 

 

Every so often in life you come across someone who changes you forever – who inspires you, even though they have no idea that you exist!  For me that person was the Brazilian photographer Sebastiao Salgado.  I remember seeing his stunningly evocative photographs for the first time and reading his story and thinking – this is it – this is what I want to do with my life.  

(I then proceeded to start painting a giant mural of one of his black and white photographs on our porch door – less than appreciated by my parents.)

For me, Salgado’s most incredible project was an eight year long epic journey – capturing the last pristine wildernesses of the world.  He travelled from Ethiopia, to Papua New Guinea and Siberia – photographing valleys, tribal people, deserts and penguins.  I saw the exhibition of that project ‘Genesis’ three times – more than I have ever seen any other exhibition before and despite the fact that normally photography doesn’t interest me nearly as much as painting.  

Finally I understood what it was I wanted to do with my life – not how I was going to do it because it didn’t involve a job description, wage or normality in any sense of the word.  But it felt like a calling, a vocation, something I couldn’t live without doing – to travel the world and tell the story of my journeys through art.  

I’ve been dreaming for as long as I can remember of being somewhere else – when I was in primary school, I used to sit by the fence in the school field and watch the people outside walking. I’d be so jealous of them because (in my small child’s mind) they were free to go anywhere in the world they wanted. I even wrote in my primary school yearbook that my dream when I grew up was to be a teacher in Africa.  

Perhaps it’s not surprising then that I’ve spent most of my twenties travelling, working uninspiring jobs, saving and then going travelling again. Sometimes at school reunions I wonder what I’m doing with my life, when my friends are nurses or doctors or teachers and I’m working in a car park to be able to go to East Africa. But then there is something about being on the other side of the world though that brings me the greatest fulfilment – it’s the escapism, the unknown, the journey, the wandering far from what’s known – and above all, the freedom to go anywhere I want to go and be anyone I want to be.  

It took me a while before I discovered that my wanderlust and my passion for painting could be intertwined and nourish each other.  In 2014 I travelled to Cambodia and in order to fund my trip I asked people if they would like to sponsor me in return for a painting. I didn’t foresee at that point that my Cambodian painting project would take me almost two years!  

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During the three months I spent working with a small charity in Northern Cambodia and I cycled obsessively in my spare time. I had an old sit up bike that I used to spend hours on – heading off in every direction imaginable, generally always getting caught by the monsoon rain.  As I explored I would paint pictures in my mind – capturing the heavy monsoon sky, the elegant houses on stilts by the side of the Mekong and the bright orange of a monk’s robe reflected in a puddle.  

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I fulfilled another dream of mine by having my first solo exhibition in London showing all my paintings of the trip.  By then I had spent so long painting exotic and far-off scenes in my bedroom in London that I was desperate to travel again!  After weighing up the merits of Guatemala vs. Chile I got on a plane to Santiago in Chile – speaking no Spanish but with a bag full of paints.

Teaching English in Santiago four days a week allowed me to have plenty of time to go and explore the coastline and the mountains. One of the most memorable nights of my trip was camping out by the ‘Enchanted’ lake up in the Andes – an experience that was in equal parts stunning and freezing. I travelled and painted snow-capped volcanoes, desert lakes and magical island forests.    

Now I’m returning to South America for my most ambitious project yet – an art journey across the continent – taking in Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia and Ecuador.  My rucksack will be mainly filled with as many art supplies as I can carry and everywhere I go I’ll have my sketchbook at the ready to respond to what I see. My aim is to create and share a sketch a day!  

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In each country I also want to create a piece of street art – especially in Valparaiso in Chile – a city were every wall is a riot of colours and imagination. In Bolivia I will be working with an art therapy charity, running community workshops and helping organise a community exhibition. 

I hope through sharing my journey via my artwork, blogs and films that I will convey something of the soul of the lands I travel through, the spirit of the people that I meet – and my own mixed emotions at such a big undertaking (enthusiasm, curiosity, excitement and terror!)!

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