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Wild Birds by Chris Furse
Kent , Kent

Wild Birds   by Chris Furse

They are favourite targets for artist Chris Furse, but he is a gentle man (off the Rugby field), and his birds never know they’ve been touched by his brushes.

Both his parents were successful artists with other day-jobs. When he was 5, Polly (his farming mother) taught him how to make Christmas Cards with lino-cuts. Instead of Robins, most people got cards of fabulous birds like Great Northern Divers. At 12-13 he won a scholarship in classics, then moved to Biological sciences, thinking of being a doctor & painter, like Eric Ennion.

At 16 he came to the big crossroad in life. Paul (his Naval Engineer father) was posted to Arbroath, between the Firth of Tay & the Grampian Mountains. In school holidays Chris spent weekdays cycling to sea cliffs, intertidal shores or inland lochs to draw seabirds, waders or wildfowl. At weekends he joined any busload of Artificer Apprentices, Wrens or families going climbing, skiing or hillwalking in the highlands. He was hooked on mountains, snow & new adventures. Polly realised what was happening. She wrote pleading with him to be an artist, starving in his own garret, not saluting & “Yes Sir” up the hierarchy. But Chris could not resist the lure of wild mountains & the sea, so he joined the Navy, and became an engineer, like his father.

10 years hard work followed: (2 Cruisers, 3 years engineering training at the RN Engineering College, 2 years in an aircraft carrier in the Far East. He was well paid, with lots of Rugby & visits to exotic ports in the Far East. After a 2 year MSc course in Greenwich, he married an Australian girl, went away in a carrier to Borneo, & came back to meet baby son Ralf.

Chris then had 2 good shore jobs. 3 years managing R&D work on full-size steam catapult facilities, followed by 2 years teaching graduates at RNEC. Those years gave him time to go out sketching birds, and time at home helped him develop as an illustrator.

In his mid 30s, another door suddenly opened for him. He applied to join a Joint Services Expedition to the Antarctic, to survey Elephant Island (think Shackleton!). He took his artwork to the selection interview in the RGS, and was taken on as the Birdman & boat-driver. The team of 14 spent 4 months on Elephant Island, a mountainous paradise 50km long x 25km, (unexplored, unclimbed, mostly glacier-ice under snowdrifts). Snowfree patches were often packed with baying penguins covered with brown mud & pink stuff.

Chris paid for his Antarctic holiday by2 years as Senior Engineer of HMS Ark Royal. On his first night Chris looked up from his bunk at a 4ft high battery of sound-powered telephones, connecting 81 watchkeepers scattered in dozens of machinery compartments. In his first week he woke when any of 60 phones whined & whispered & their lights lit up, as 81 people kept contact with each other. (Later he slept thro anything less than long screams!).

After that Chris organised & led 2 more Joint Services Expeditions in Antarctica.His 16-man 1976-77 follow-up expedition to Elephant Island & its satellites used canoes. His book ELEPHANT ISLAND An Antarctic Expedition tells his story.

He spent 3 years in MOD(Navy) arranging R&D on diesel engines.Then he joined HMS Ajax (his first frigate) as Staff Engineer for the 8th Frigate squadron. Visiting Aberdeen, an accidental meeting at a University Party led to Chris illustrating a behavioural study of Shelducks by Ian Paterson (try buying it on Amazon!). That rekindled his ambition to become a semi-professional artist.

By 1980 Chris was in the thick of organising another Antarctic expedition. This time his aim was to winter down south to witness the whole year cycle of breeding birds. This one took even longer to organise, because the Argentinians invaded the Falkland Islands 2 years before we went South. Altogether 35 servicemen took part in 3 phases, Chris & 3 others spent a whole year on Brabant Island living only in tents, snowholes or igloos, overlapping the 1st or 2nd Summers. His book Antarctic Year has great photos.

In 1985 Chris started his last RN job, submarine engines & stern Seals in RAE Pyestock.HHe then led a BSES expediton to Svalbard in 1987, which set a pattern they have followed since. He led another expedition there in 1996, and was boatman, logistics & advance party on 3 other expeditions ion Svalbard. He also organised and led the BSES Millennium Expedition to South Georgia, West Falkland, Cordillera Darwin & Torres del Paine. (the first time BSES had an Antarctic Expedition.

In 1993 Chris married Vikky Saker, a trained artist. Since then Chris has worked much harder at making pictures, as well as thousands of sketches. We went to life-drawing workshops with a “director” using the Cecil Collins method, freeing us up. I now also show Birds with their feathers off as well as wild birds. He has exhibitef at the SWLA annuak exhibition in the Mall Galleries, and had solo exhibitions ,nitrd teacher in the improved by lweaps and boundswe have worked in.

In 2005 he was invited to an international Artists workshop on Veranka Island in the Hungarian Danube, and the following year he was invited to a similar Artists “camp” in ASiud Transylvania, Tomania.


Chris Furse