Page last updated at 09:35 GMT, Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Zero gravity artist puts career on ice

Nasser Azam at Billingsgate Fish Market
Azam has prepared for his trip by painting in a fish market deep freeze

An artist who hit headlines in 2008 by painting in zero gravity is travelling to Antarctica for his latest project.

Nasser Azam, who is leaving for the continent on Thursday, will complete a major series of nine paintings in temperatures as low as -30C.

It is the latest stage in Azam's "performance painting" project to produce art in extreme circumstances.

A painting he completed in zero gravity sold for $332,500 (£223,000) at auction in New York.

Homage to Francis Bacon: Triptych I was created as part of Azam's Life in Space project in July 2008.

Nasser Azam's Homage to Francis Bacon: Triptych I
Francis Bacon: Triptych I was the first painting to have been created in zero gravity

The artist climbed 23,000 feet in a specially-modified plane to work on the piece while weightless.

To prepare for his latest expedition, which could see Azam brave biting blizzards, he spent time in a giant deep-freeze at Billingsgate Fish Market in London.

"It wasn't fun," he laughed. "I spent over two hours in there and it took me a long time to get used to the temperature. I went from temperatures of 5 or 6C straight into -22.

"I'm hoping that it will be a lot easier in Antarctica where I'll have a few days to get used to it."

The exercise at Billingsgate was to test the specially-made brushes and paint Azam will be taking with him. He plans to paint on 9ft x 9ft canvases, laid out on the ice, over the course of five days.

"Billingsgate was more to get a feel for how the equipment is going to handle, but it was useful to experience those kind of temperatures," he said.

Creative limits

The trip has taken more than 18 months to organise and has been in the planning since Azam returned from his previous venture.

"After the zero gravity project, I wanted to continue exploring the creative limits of working in an environment that is unfamiliar," he explained.

"I wanted to look at furthest point from my comfort zone as an inspiration. The conditions are going to be extreme both physically and visually, whereas the zero gravity project was more about the physical challenges I faced.

"It's going to be 24-hour daylight and I think that's going to be challenging, and I have never painted anything of this magnitude.

Azam said he planned to use the Antarctic landscape as well as the physical and mental limitations of the harsh conditions as his inspiration.

"Hopefully what I paint will be a reflection of the starkness and natural beauty of the location.

"I have prepared the canvases in the core colours - a red, a blue, a yellow - I am keeping the palette to a very simple colour scheme. I want to see how I can visualise everything against the starkness of everything being white.

"It is barren land and I want to try and communicate the beauty and strangeness of the location this time. A lot of my work is allegorical and I think it will be interesting to see how I adapt to the location in terms of my work."

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