Larry Mitchell – Where TRUE NORTH Takes Me

Larry Mitchell is most famous for his landscape painting, particularly his images of the Western Australian coastline. Over the past decade Larry has been increasingly focused on the urgent need for environmental conservation. Larry talks about how his travels on the TRUE NORTH have given him access to remote areas of the Pacific Ocean and Indian Ocean and how he has used that experience as inspiration for his major exhibition One Degree C.

He explains his working relationship with TRUE NORTH and the value he sees in building positive connections between first world and third world cultures.

Larry Mitchell - Pilbara Island 2
Q. How did you come to be involved with TRUE NORTH?

I’ve been travelling on TRUE NORTH for about ten years working on a project called One Degree C. This project is to do with sea level rise through global warming. It also explores the effect of globalisation on coastal cultures and coastal places. Access to the TRUE NORTH has allowed me to get to places that I couldn’t have otherwise accessed without a great deal of trouble. I’ve been traveling on the TRUE NORTH to have a look at these outcomes of globalisation and global warming in the most remote places. I’ve traveled through Indonesia, Northern Australia and West Papua Yes, to bear witness to outcomes and record them.

I’ve put together a series of journals and many paperworks and some large paintings under the banner of that One Degree C project title. These have just been shown at a major exhibition at the Nevada Museum of Art in America, in a place called The Centre of Art and Environment. It is a world renowned repository for what they call altered landscape, or man’s effect on landscape. That show was well received and ran for eight months.  Some of the major works from that show were published in Orion Magazine which is America’s premier arts and nature magazine. TRUE NORTH has played an important role in that entire project in taking me to extraordinary places and helping me understand what is happening there.

Q. How did your interest in environmental conservation come about?

I first became interested in the 80s when I started traveling to the Abrolhos. We’d been living in England for a year. We came back and went up there with some fishing friends. I could see the intrusion of external lifestyles, government departments, shopping, all sorts of things, were beginning to have an effect on these fishing families. With these broader globalising factors, markets, government departments, trade negotiations, and all that having an impact on what was otherwise a bunch of fishing families. I could also see all of our corporations physically in the environment, the natural environment there, with erosion, species of fish arriving in different places at different times of the year. There were regular cycles of appearance in fish species or coral species or crabs which were changing as the climate changed.

Q. Why Is Your Exhibition Called One Degree C?

I’ve called it One Degree C because for every one degree C rising, temp and sea level, temperature, there’s a rise in sea-level, a corresponding rise in sea level. This has huge ramifications for the villages and for the societies that live coastally in these areas.

Impacts on Remote Places
I’ve done a lot of journeys on the TRUE NORTH to really pristine places. I’ve seen the rising impacts on Papua New Guinea, the Louisiades, and so on. Externally these places looked incredibly pristine. The coral is 89% coral growth. The only damage it seems, at this stage, would be from storms. But the first indicators are everywhere. Particularly in a place like Louisiade, which is incredibly isolated, off the shipping channel.  Yet many of the islands are now eroding, very, very rapidly. Villages are having to shift already. We see the same thing in West Papua. They’re having to extend jetties out further and further and further, and all sorts of physical ramifications are occurring in these little villages.

Broader Environmental Impacts
The effects of mining, the effect of politics, all sorts of external globalizing factors, dependencies. These are previously subsistence people becoming dependent on external economies, like the Chinese economy or Japanese. These places have gone from traditional societies to transitional societies and have got a lot of issues in what’s going on there. All these journeys on the TRUE NORTH have allowed me to think about these things aloud in those journals and put that collection together for the Nevada Museum of Art.

Q. Have you seen a change in the True North over the time you’ve been travelling with her?

Oh, very definitely. TRUE NORTH did start out very much as a very high level boat, to take luxury travellers people to extremely inaccessible places. While it is still very much a luxury experience a more practical environmental aspect has developed. TRUE NORTH’S trips have gradually become much more expeditionary, with more exploration, more research and more co-operation with scientists and attachment to scientific institutions. It has added a fascinating and valuable aspect to the whole experience with some of the learning and conservation I’m involved in. An example of that is the whale shark tagging, up Cenderawasih Bay.

The TRUE NORTH has also helped people medically in certain villages. They make contributions everywhere they go. They’re involved with, through Andy Lewis and Mark Erdmann, Conservation International. They’re also involved in education programs in Indonesia. Indirectly, to start with, but certainly their involvement has grown over time. They’ve become a somewhat more serious kind of expeditionary vessel as well as a fun luxury cruise. It’s really is a beautiful experience on so many levels.

The TRUE NORTH is very eco-sensitive. It’s very non-intrusive, non-invasive. It’s solely self-contained as a vessel, materialistically, in terms of its biological output, rubbish output, all of those sorts of things. It has no environmental impact. It’s probably, I would think, has a very good influence overall in terms of spreading education about the concerns for coral reef preservation and conservation. Shipping these very important marine scientists around the Indonesian Archipelago, in New Guinea, spreading knowledge to school children. Through their work they are connecting all the people in a really positive way. The things that we connect with the New Guinean villages, for example, are things like the long-term welfare of their village in relation to the changing environment and so on. It’s a growing and developing relationship. It works both ways. We’re affecting them, I suppose, hopefully in a good way, that is, the village people, and they’re affecting us as well, in terms of our view of the world.

There’s a two-way impact between the traditional and transitional societies when we visit them. TRUE NORTH also has an influence over thinking and decision making. A lot of the clients of the TRUE NORTH are powerful, influential people who are seeing the sorts of things that we’re talking about. They’re seeing the effect of the path of globalising forces and seeing the effect of sea level rise, ocean acidification, species relocation even in these remote places. These  influential people from around the planet, but particularly around Australia, are witnessing on these trips the sorts of changes that my project is about, and that the TRUE NORTH has become involved in. That can only be beneficial in terms of spreading knowledge about change, environmentally speaking, to people that might, potentially, have the ability to do, and the power, to do something about it. Once you see what’s there you really want to help to protect it.

Q. What do you observe the visitors enjoy on the TRUE NORTH?

It always seems to be that the outcome is a increased sensitivity towards the places and the people that we visit. I think a lot of them are initially going thinking they’re just on a luxury cruise boat. They’re going to have a great time and drink great wine and see the world flit by. They then become sensatised to and involved in the lives of the people that we visit and the places that we visit. That’s why there are so many repeat visits on the TRUE NORTH. The experience gradually deepens for people. It moves from a superficial holiday experience to an involvement and a love and concern for the places that we visit.

I’ve met people who have gone back to the same place four or five times. They develop a concern and an interest in these places. To me, it’s so valuable to connect the first world and third world cultures, and to build an awareness of the change in the environment, the changes in the lifestyle of the people in these places. To me, it’s all good in terms of what comes out of it, that’s what I’ve certainly seen.

See: Images from Larry Mitchell’s exhibition One Degree C.

Photography Credit: Victor France Photographic

Kimberley Cruises 2019