All Good Things Are Wild and Free: An Interview with Snow Artist Simon Beck

Written & Curated by Lilly Ball

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If you’ve ever wondered what you could be doing bereft of internet, snow artist Simon Beck can show you. Hailing from Somerset, England and living in the French resort village of Arc2000 with altitudes reaching 10,500 feet, Beck spends his days furthering himself from two-dimensional screens, furthering himself from us. Try not to take it personally—your Tumblr is important, just not in the grand scheme that is snow art. The sport, although magnificently beautiful and awe-inspiring, is just that, a sport—requiring training, navigational skills, a knowledge of orienteering, endurance, and a degree in Science Engineering from the University of Oxford doesn’t hurt. For Beck, snow art is an exercise he picked up after orienteering became too hard on his feet, a practice that allows him to stay in shape while simultaneously creating astonishing illustrations in the snow. Lucky for us, he’s kept a catalog of his snow drawings, and has just recently put out a book of over 200 photographs detailing his work throughout the snowy alps.

 

How did you get into orienteering?
School did it, but I have always liked running in woodland and climbing hills, and best of all was when the 2 were combined. It was a natural activity for me.

 

How many times have you won?
I won the Age-Class British Champs in 1974, age 17;  1996, age 35; and 1999, age 40.

 

What led you to create snow art?
It started as a bit of fun after skiing one day, but I quite liked doing it anyway, so I made some more, and more complicated ones. In 2009, when I decided my feet were too worn out to continue orienteering, I decided to make the snow drawing my main winter aerobic activity, and work towards building a collection of photos for a book.

“Most people will only ever see the
majority of art as photos.” 

What were you like as a child?
Mad about running in the woods and snow. Also drawing patterns and making polyhedra.

 

I understand you have also worked with sand. Have you always worked in large-scale art?
Sand drawing was a bit of a spin-off from snow drawing; an experiment to see whether it would attract the same level of attention (It hasn’t). Inevitably there is a time limit, and it becomes a race against the rising tide. But I would like to make a book of sand drawings, each one on a different beach. One could spend a summer touring Britain. It would be a great way to get a book of photos of lots of attractive places. Perhaps I should seek expert advice. Of course, how well the snow book sells will have a big influence on the decision.

 

Your work seems very meditative in not only the process, but also its temporal quality.  In this way, the imprints become more like moments. What draws you to this type of fleeting art?
Many people ask questions involving meditation. It’s more like an orienteering exercise. The diagram is the map, and the aim is to reproduce it in the snow with the minimum of mistakes. The measuring and drawing of the lines is rather like cartography backwards, using the same skills. It is boring and requires concentration. But the shading is easier, and I like that part of it, until I start getting tired towards the end. But an important point is that it is good exercise. My body needs the exercise, and the photos mean I have something to show for it.

 

Does it ever pain you, after trudging through the snow for an entire day, that your work is sized down and flattened to a series of photographs? Or has photography always been a part of the process?
Obviously a photo is second best, but the aim of the game is to get good photos, as this is the permanent art work. Most people will only ever see the majority of art as photos. When the drawing gets covered up, I go out and make another as soon as a fine day is expected.

 

What sort of trials have you experienced working in the snow?
With any outdoor activity, there is going to be a proportion of failures because of the weather. When I fail to get a good photo, the drawing has to be done again. The upside of that is that having done it once, you know how to do it, and the second attempt is usually better. This does not happen often nowadays. We have the world’s most powerful computers working on the weather forecasts, and the best strategy is to rest and wait until conditions are right, then go and do your best. Ideal weather is four days of sunshine and no wind, then a good dump of fresh snow.

 

Tell me about your new book, Snow Art.
The publisher is a skier who had seen my drawings in Les Arcs, and runs a small publishing house in Paris. The project started when he approached me. I was thinking about a book, but felt that it would have been better to wait another year or two, but the reaction to the book has been very positive, so perhaps he was right after all.

The book has 168 pages, and most of the drawings in it were made at Les Arcs. All photos taken by myself from the ground or chairlifts using various cameras.

“But an important point is that
it is good exercise.”
 

Where was your first drawing located?
On the small lake outside the building where I own an apartment in Arc2000. It used the whole of the surface area of the lake, about 2/3 the size of a soccer field.

 

Do you work alone?
Usually. I have had help with about 15 of the 182 drawings I have ever made.

 

What artists do you look up to?
Vincent Van Gogh, because he worked so hard. He tried to complete one painting per day, and was just so talented. His paintings are just so beautiful. His olive trees and cypresses and cornfields seem to move as you look at them! In a way I feel I should take more interest in what other artists are doing, but one of my problems is that French Telecom says it is not possible to install a phone line in my apartment, which means I cannot use the internet at home. I have to use other people’s equipment or Wi-Fi and it drives me mad. Once I have done the essential things I just want to get away from computers!

 

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Simon Beck is the world’s first and most famous “Snow Artist”. He graduated in Engineering from Oxford University but decided later on to leave his office job in order to become a cartographer. In December 2004, after a day of skiing, he got the idea to draw a star on the small frozen lake in front of his place. His sense for orientation in combination with his passion for outdoor and physical activities inspired him to complete a snow creation. The day after, looking down from the ski lift; he was impressed by the result. After the next snowfall, he repeated the exercise by creating an even more complex drawing. Snow Art was born. This book is his first and contains a collection of 10 years of groundbreaking artwork. You can purchase a copy at www.snowart.gallery.com and follow him on Facebook.


About

Lilly Ball joined FORTH Magazine as Art Director/Brand Manager in the Fall of 2014. She is interested in writing, people, and the forest. lilly@forthmagazine.com.


  1. January 29, 2015 @ 2:20 pm January 2015 Winter Art and Writing Roundup | milwaukeesnow

    […] with his snowshoes. This Huffington Post piece provides a good introduction to his work; a recent Forth magazine interview. On the other side of the spectrum, Architectural Digest reminds us that when we make beauty a […]

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