Bag man's wanderlust writ large

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 14 October, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 14 October, 2007, 12:00am

For the past 24 years, Australian artist Stephen Eastaugh has been on the move. Every three months, he packs his bag in what has become 'a nasty habit' that has given him an odd love for airports, from where he visits art galleries to host exhibitions or ventures to places new and old, happily lost in a lifestyle that fuels his travel-themed art.

Then he got married last weekend to Argentine wine dealer Carolina Furque - a move that may see him take up a more permanent home over the next few years, some of the time in South America.

The wedding at a Hong Kong marriage registry consisted of the couple, the registrar, and a few friends, including gallery owner John Batten, who is hosting the bridegroom's latest solo show.

Until November 10, Eastaugh is showcasing 10 of his larger works at Batten's new art space in Wong Chuk Hang, the first exhibition at the venue but his fourth with Batten.

'Because I'm always travelling it's sometimes tricky to stay in one place and have space to do some big pictures,' says Eastaugh, 47. 'This time I had a huge warehouse, I had time, I had money, and a big space which was a bit of a treat as often on the road I'm just doing little things, collecting ideas, waiting for the possibility of doing the more major works.'

Eastaugh carried out most of the work in two stints 'in a stinking hot shed' in Broome, Western Australia.

His current exhibition Finding Yourself Lost is a collection of works from all continents and his travels over the past 20 years. They were completed over the past two years using acrylic paint on Belgian linen. Often, he sews in a central theme with a variety of fibre from wool to plastic thread to simple cotton using a 'rat-bag form of embroidery' to get the extra texture.

Eastaugh's travels haven't left him jaded. Batten describes him as 'an artist's artist', pleasing those buyers 'who get him'. Some images have humour; others are a view of a place taken at a personal level.

He's been to Antarctica eight times and hopes to return again, this time as artist-in-residence for the Australian Antarctic Division. If permission is granted, it will mean weeks of darkness. The prospect doesn't bother him. The mission's station provides all creature comforts and his reward will come with the eerie twilight as the light returns to the south.

One artwork called Immersion Suit and Tie has the huge waves of the Southern Ocean as a backdrop to a central image done in red embroidery - simply showing the immersion suit and, in a quirky bit of fun, the tie that is handed to those taking part in the Antarctic mission.

'That figure there is a simplified version of two dress items,' he says. The immersion suit is a safety device that allows a few more minutes of survival in the Southern Ocean 'in case you fall overboard'.

'The other item is the nice tie the Antarctic division gives you, as you often have to think in Antarctica - what are you going to wear?'

Eastaugh describes himself as 'pleasantly lost' - a travelling peasant 'with a huge grin on my face'.

'Lost is a state of being for Steve,' says Batten. 'He uses it because people can relate to it, but in fact he's very well centred.

'Steve's work is of a style I like.

It works on an aesthetic level, it works on a message level. It works because he's passionate about what he does.'

Everywhere a Foreigner or Nowhere a Foreigner is taken from the artist's time in Taipei and shows a ginseng root in the form of a human with the roots coming out of legs and arms. 'As a young man I was a little bit excited by Japanese sumi ink paintings with fuzzy clouds, or a void or nothingness,' says Eastaugh. 'And I like to marry that with a hardcore, iconic image as a central image.'

Says Batten: 'The more the world is consuming itself - and I use that in a very ironic sort of way - I think his work is becoming more and more relevant because he travels and he looks at these things.'

Finding Yourself Lost, John Batten Gallery, 2205, Remex Building, 42 Wong Chuk Hang Road, Aberdeen. Ends Nov 10