Association of Polar Early Career Scientists


Patrick Shepherd is an accomplished composer, conductor, performer, researcher and teacher, and is well-known for his work in the community and with young people. Patrick is also an Honorary Antarctic Arts Fellow, having travelled to Antarctica twice in 2003/2004 and 2016/2017, and much of his current creative work is related to those trips, including painting and poetry as well as music. Somewhat paradoxically, his experience in Antarctica led him to research the medical condition synaesthesia (altered sensory perception).

Shpeherd Patrick PolarArtBlog PolarWeekMar2020Name: Patrick Shepherd




What medium do you work in? How did you choose that medium?

I am a professional musician so most of my creative work is done as a composer, but I also conduct, perform and teach. For as long as I can remember I have been involved in music in some form or other. However, since travelling to Antarctica, I have returned to some of my earlier interests of painting and creative writing, probably because not everything I experienced in Antarctica could be expressed in sound. As for choosing music as my main area of interest, I didn’t really, it chose me. 

How and why did you decide to focus on the polar regions in your work?

What drew me to Antarctica in the first place was a distinct fascination with ice and snow which is a really strong memory from my childhood growing up in the north-east of England. I loved “snow days” and that very particular quality of light when snow has fallen. It was therefore a natural progression for me to go there given that we are so close to Antarctica, that Antarctica has such a strong public profile here in Christchurch and there was the opportunity to do so through Antarctica New Zealand’s artists’ programme. All the stars collided for me and came at a time when I was broadening my research interests to not only create music but to examine the creative process behind it and the phenomenological backstory of what it means to be “creative”.  

What polar themes or imagery do you typically focus on?

The polar themes emerging from my work could be broadly categorised into historical, environmental and scientific, although I often find that whatever the initial stimulus, it all becomes woven together through some form of constructed personal narrative. At one point I got quite obsessed about interiors and exteriors from being inside the huts and looking out, but that idea took a back seat until recently when it resurfaced as I began work on my fourth symphony.

Have you exhibited your artwork in-person or online somewhere recently or have an upcoming exhibition?

My musical compositions have been broadcast on Radio NZ and in concerts around New Zealand, as well as overseas, with several uploaded to YouTube (see the links below). The exposure of my artwork and poetry has been largely through my university lecture sand public presentations to service organisations such as Rotary, Lions and U3A. My poetry has mainly been written to serve as words for my musical compositions.

Do you have any advice for polar scientists and researchers who might like to engage more with using art to share their results and research?

My personal philosophy around art’s relationship with science in Antarctica is that they form a symbiosis whereby each can inform and add value to the other. The artist can provide a portal through which the public can connect with concepts fronting the hard science, heightening public awareness and presenting the issues in a different way. It is not a universally held view, of course, and ars gratia artis is important in having creative work that makes its own statement irrespective of anything else, but it is something that I have found significant in how I approach my Antarctica-related creative works. I would hesitate to give anybody advice, whether they be scientist or artist, except to be open to other viewpoints and ways of expressing in whatever medium what is, essentially, a search for the truth.

What reactions do you often receive to your art?

Reactions to my work have generally been very positive as Antarctica seems to really capture people’s imagination. Listeners like to be transported there and let their imaginations run wild! I do, however, distinctly remember a primary school student asking me at the end of a presentation why my Antarctic music sounded sad. It was a very perceptive question and I think that because I tend not to use standard chords and melodies this may be partly the answer but, on reflection, I think they hit the nail on the head – for me, Antarctica is a sad place and yet I was filled with absolute joy and wonder to be there. It is something that I have been conscious of (very self-conscious of) in music I have written since then but all it has proved is that they were right.

What do you think are the biggest challenges facing the polar regions today?

Looking further afield, I think the biggest challenge facing the polar regions is undoubtedly climate change and ensuring that the facts and the message get delivered unequivocally to the general public. It may well be that with all the noise this becomes the toughest challenge of all.

Do you have a favourite fellow polar (or nature) artist?

During my time lecturing and research on Antarctic Arts I have come to thoroughly enjoy the works of my fellow New Zealanders Chris Cree Brown, Phil Dadson and Gareth Farr. British composer Peter Maxwell Davies’ Symphony no.8 is a magnificently constructed treatise in austerity and latent power, while for a more populist listen you can’t go past Vangelis’ soundtrack to Koreyoshi Kurahara’s movie Antarctica. I’m also intrigued by Cheryl 

Leonard’s music that uses materials gathered in Antarctica, such as penguin bones. Cheryl manages to create some amazing sounds.

 © pictures created by Patrick Shepherd

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