Robin Shillcock


The bear emerged from the infinite white of the frozen sea, 350 kilos of muscle and sinew following a hypersensitive nose. Ignoring our presence it broke through the pack ice and hauled the seal pup out. It pranced around with its catch, fed until little was left, licked its chops, looked us over and loped off, leaving us breathless in the frigid air.

Not many encounters are as dramatic as seeing eye to eye with a polar bear. Most encounters with wildlife are fleeting, small events, like finding a newborn hare on snowbound ground; like seeing a fledgling starling flop onto the breakfast table, taking everything with it.
Drawing dead animals, zoo animals, tame wild birds are methods I use to get to know them. Some wild birds entered my world in a cardboard box, injured, weakenend, helpless. Yet with amazing grace they taught me lessons never to be forgotten, about adaptation, willpower and trust. Their return to freedom left a void time barely fills. Box (Shelducks) and Winter Guests (Tufted ducks) pays tribute to those who gave me insight into their natures.
In the wild animals require a different approach than pets or cattle. Seeking them out on their own turf means immersing myself in their universe — and having to wait until something of significance happens. I'm forced to work directly, without too much thought, limited in method, by the lie of the land and the elements.
Along a refuse-strewn coast, I encounter young gulls huddled in immobility among the rocks. Usually they match their surroundings perfectly, but occasionally a chick stands out against a bed of rotting seaweed lke a gem on a display tray. (See Coastal Encounter, Lofoten)
Getting under a subject’s skin is connecting. The connection may only exist in my mind, or in real life, like when sharing the pack ice with a feeding polar bear. Intimacy may not be the right word to use here, but I was given rare insight into the temperament and mysterious power of that bear. After such an encounter, it’s up to me to somehow express the wonder it induced.