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Ellis O’Connor reports back on an incredible month exploring the Northern Isles and making art as part of the Clipperton Project…

What was a particular highlight from the expedition?

A particular highlight from the trip was getting to spend a few days on Papa Stour. The coastal scenery was the best I’ve ever seen, exploring the sea caves and walking through the gigantic sea arches on this small remote Island was a personal favourite. I think it was such a highlight for me as there are only 12 people that live on this Island and it’s pretty difficult to get to, so I found it special to be able to explore the place thoroughly.

Ellis O Connor - Clipperton Project

Northern Isles Expedition

Ellis’ work in situ on the Clipperton Project

Did the environment or project itself impact your work in any surprising ways?

Yes, I found that the environment impacted on my work tremendously, I was overwhelmed by the sheer size of the cliffs and sea stacks which surround Shetland along with being surrounded by the North Sea, my work developed more towards looking into Shetland’s folklore of the sea and surrounding coastlines.

Ellis O'Connor - Northern Isles Expedition

Ellis O’Connor – Under Those Northern Skies

There’s a haunting, timeless quality to your images of the islands and coastline. How did you feel in such a wild and remote environment?

Yes that’s true, I felt truly elated in these wild and remote places. It connects us to a deeper atmosphere, a true connection to the land which has so much history, and scars to it through being exposed to the inhospitable North Sea. And so I felt great being surrounded by the Northern Isles’s overwhelming landscapes on the open sea. It opened my eyes to how powerful the atmosphere of these landscapes are in which I put across in my work.


Northern Isles Expedition

Ellis drawing on deck in the middle of the sea.

Were there any challenges to the practical aspects of drawing and photographing on deck?

Occasionally there were some high winds, some high tides so it wasn’t possible now and then to work right on deck as it could get a bit rough but overall it was calm and even in the cold spells I made the full use of the deck and sat mesmerized by the cliffs going by as we sailed past them, it’s not often you get an opportunity like that to draw straight from these places!

Ellis O'Connor - Northern Isles Expedition

Ellis O’Connor – Under Those Northern Skies

The Bothy Project saw you creating art by yourself in a remote forest cabin. How did the experience of working with other artists and scientists compare to the solo project?

The experience of working with other artist’s was very influential. They all came from different backgrounds from film making, to sculpture to illustration so it was great being able to learn new techniques, collaborate on drawings and learn from each other’s projects and aims for the expedition.


Northern Isles Expedition

Ellis and the other artists at work on Selkie.

Did you get to venture onto any of the most remote, uninhabited islands?

Yes indeed, all in all, while I was aboard if we weren’t visiting very remote parts of Shetland’s main land, we were sailing out visiting smaller islands. The only one I got to explore that was uninhabited was Noss, however even though Papa Stour has 12 people living on it, they are not permanent as the Winter’s are too harsh so it was quite eerie walking past quiet empty croft houses yet amazing at the same time. It truly is an incredible island.

Ellis O'Connor - Northern Isles Expedition

Ellis O’Connor – Under Those Northern Skies

What lasting impact do you think the expedition might have on you and your work?

The expedition has had a profound effect on me, not only have I made brilliant connections with fellow artists, I have also learned sailing and land skills, have reflected on what I want to do from this journey, and have had the chance to speak to true locals on tiny Islands about the mythology and folklore which in turn broadens my mind. Secondly my work has benefited enormously from this residency, it has allowed me to think and reflect on my practice, get the best possible inspiration and primary resource material as we sailed by tiny islands that most people will never get a chance to see and also connect with the landscape in a true way that in turn will have a positive effect overall on my continued practice from now.

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