From Suzy Gonzalez

26.10.2015 - 09.12.2015

My trip to Peru was nothing short of amazing. I knew I would be spending most of my time with The Trelex Residency in the rainforest, but I also wanted to explore the mountainous parts of the country. Before heading to Puerto Maldonado, I was a photography volunteer with an incredible conservation organization called Fauna Forever. I earned some great hiking, bird watching, and photography experience with them and was fortunate enough to get to visit Machu Pichu as well. I would highly recommend spending some time around Cusco before or after the residency to take advantage of the diverse regions and climates of the country, and it never hurts to volunteer for a good cause!

From Cusco, I chose the 30 minute flight to Puerto Maldonado rather than a 10 hour bus ride. I first stayed at Refugio Amazonas for about a week before heading to the Tambopata Research Center. I didn’t want to get too comfortable there, so I worked on collages from the photographs I had gathered in Cusco, and decided to not start painting until I settled down. Moving to TRC was such an exciting time. It is much more secluded and I felt I had all the time in the world to experience nature and conceptualize my work. The trickiest part for me was balancing the urge to explore with producing work. I didn’t let this stress me out though. I knew I could always paint back home. 

Pedro Peruano y Los Siete Borreguitos, acrylic on canvas, 18 x 24''

Min Kim and I were each given a room with two twin size beds. As there was no easel available, I worked with what I had and used my second bed as a sort of painting table. There was a small side table that I could also place my paints and palette on. I would recommend to never leave wet paint uncovered as the macaws will step in it and then continue to step on everything else in your room! On that note, I used acrylic paints here, as I was pretty sure oil paints would never dry in this climate. On rainy days, the acrylic would act a bit like oil paint, not drying until the next day. However, on days when it was incredibly hot and dry, my paint was almost like glue, and this was frustrating to work with (I tend to prefer the consistency of oils).

Selva vs. Agricultura, digital collage

The time frame to work for me was from 7am-5pm, as the sun was my only light source and it would get dark pretty early. The evenings were a great time for me to get some reading done, but I should have brought more books as I finished mine about halfway through my trip. I was constantly taking photographs as inspiration for my paintings. My favorite time to go out was at night, taking micro photos of insects and spiders, and catching a nice starry night every once in a while. The daytime was best for capturing monkeys, birds, and plant life. With these photos, I would make collages by hand or mostly on my computer, which I would then paint from. I brought a travel printer with me, which was nice, but not totally necessary in retrospect. I was able to make three paintings there, and I’m continuing to work on the series. Sometimes when I didn’t feel like painting, I would try to do a daily blind contour drawing of something, usually of my face or an insect that had been hanging out in my room. I was able to travel to Peru on a Grad Studies Grant from the Rhode Island School of Design, and my proposal had been to make paintings that observed colonization and deforestation, and how these resulted in the displacement of beings. I stayed true to these concepts in an theoretical manner, collaging parts of people, animals, and objects that I came across. My original idea of Hybridizing the Rainforest evolved after my experiences ran together into more of a hybridization of different beings that I came across in Peru.

Muter Llama desde Cusco, acrylic on canvas, 24 x 18''

The food was fantastic, and the kitchen was incredibly kind in preparing vegan food for me. There was no shortage of nutrients; I ate very well. It was also incredibly helpful to know enough Spanish to communicate on a basic level with non-English speakers. Min and I would go into the forest with a guide a few times a week, usually after lunch so we could have the mornings to work. We would either join up with a tourist group or go with a guide who wasn’t working at the moment and just wanted to explore (Julian). They all knew their way around quite well and knew so much about the wildlife. I really learned a lot from these excursions, and was able to go back to my field guides afterwards and check off all of the animals I had seen that day.

I learned so much in Peru about Mother Nature, the life, death, and rebirth of all of the organisms in the rainforest, and about my own connection to, and appreciation of it all. It is a rare opportunity to get to be surrounded by the pure beauty of nature for so long, and I’m so grateful to have gotten to experience it. I’ll never forget this trip and the many friendly faces I met along the way. I have so much to relay from my time there that I’m in the early stages of making a comic book about it. I hope to return some day soon for my art and my spirit.

Muter de Flor, acrylic on canvas, 18 x 24'

For more information, please visit the website of Suzy Gonzalez here.

For more photos from Suzy's trip to Peru, please go to her Facebook Album here.

Min Kim's Blog 

An artist's book by Michiel Schepers

4.12.2014 - 4.01.2015

I recently received a book by post which really made my day. It is an account of Michiel Schepers time on the residency with Rainforest Expeditions. The writing is a bit like long aphorisms, at one level disjointed independent paragraphs, yet as a whole so very representative of how one 'looses' oneself in the rainforest, of how difficult it is to stay with any one thought, any one perspective, any one discovery or observation for very long. At the same time it is a sustained effort of obversation of everything between the forest floor and the towering canopy that obscures the sky above.

This week, Michiel came to visit for a couple of nights- interrupting his planned trip through the alps to answer my invitation. We were so busy together that I forgot to take a picture of the first Artist to have visited the first two Trelex Residencies - something that in and of itself felt like a massive event to me. I am so excited at the potential of Trelex Residencies to build international networks of Artists supporting each other...

Michiel had a bit of interaction with Secil Erel and Gizem Ünlü - presently residents at Trelex - but mainly we worked long hours together at tightening up the layout, graphic design, text, organisation and presentation of his book to produce a pdf, available for now on issuu:

The next step will hopefully be to print this into both a large edition for sale at the Rainforest Lodges shops and a small edition of hand-finished signed artists book for showing in Galleries together with Michiel's huge watercolours from his amazonian residency last year. A typical project for The Trelex Residency. And a brilliant example of how taking a chance on an Artist without any application forms will more often than not produce something of value that surprises both the host and the artist in equal measure - something that couldn't have been planned for without considerable anxiety on both sides of the equation.

Nora Schaffer 'Loosing Our Self'

25.03.2014 - 25.03.2015

Nora Schaffer writes about 'Loosing Our Self' one of the projects she worked on during her time as artist in residence in the Amazon. 

Kristen, my identical twin sister (and my fellow resident), and I have spent most of the last ten years apart. We weren't very close the 18 years we did spend together. And now she's married and living in an entirely different country than myself. So, as we took this journey into the unknown together, it occurred to me this would be one of a few opportunities we'd have to work together as identical twins.

My supposition is that twins are not any one thing that can be understood from the perspective of someone that is not a twin. I think how excited one is to realize they are meeting twins or merely telling someone I am a twin is enough to set off a serious of questions: what's it like? are you close? do you like the same things? etc etc you get the picture, my favorite - wanna be in a threesome? So forth, and so forth, that any sort of visual representation of twin, is more often than not, given the likeliness of an artist being an identical twin, fetishizing twin-dom.

So. Are we the same person? This is a the type of question that has an obvious answer (we aren't) but makes me wonder whether there is an alternative answer. Is it possible that we could be the same person?

For me and Kristen, two very different people and two functionally different artists, it seems unlikely. Looks alone, we're not the most convincing of clones. Kristen is about two inches taller, has a more impressive bosom, and overall a more well-defined facial structure with a prominent chin. I am daintier in size, and softer by appearance.

As a photographer attempting to examine a long history of artists fetishizing twins, the way we look next to each other matters. I decided that I'd have to carry out this project under the assumption we pass as identical twins.

Under that assumption and the assumption that we were different yet there was a omnipresent question of sameness, I chose to focus on a situation in which there was a potential for the confusion of our individual identities.

It just so happens we were on our way to the jungle, which is easy to get lost in. And it seems that loosing ourself is exactly what I wanted to test out.

I go into the jungle, or she does, and do we assimilate, loose oneself, find oneself, or become each other? Who am I and who is us? The jungle provides a mysterious, highly textured backdrop for the story.

Influences included Ingmar Bergman's PERSONA which features two biologically unrelated actresses who uncannily resemble each other physically as "doubles" who in turn confound and confuse their identities with one another; and the 1510 painting St. George and the Dragon by Albrecht Altdorfer, in which identity (literally) is surrendered to the forest.

Working title is "Loosing Our Self" and the following is a selection of unedited sample scans from many 35mm slide still film exposures I took over the course of three weeks in the jungle surrounding the Tambopata Research Center. There is a 50/50 split of self-portraits and portraits of me and my identical twin sister. For book or for gallery, my hope is that the representation of twin is reunited with the question of identity. "Classical Twin Photography" too often looses sight of the potential for subjectivity of the "objects" represented.

Following the visual story, perhaps long after the fact and separate from whatever primary presentation is made, will be a grouping of anecdotes of what it's like trying to to make art in the jungle which is filled with an enormous amount of creepy crawly things who all seem to have a creative bent, wanting to involve themselves in the process. Not to mention the oppressive heat which makes trouncing around in a full length, neck-binding, polyester dress akin to hell in all regards. Nor was it great when groups of international tourists would come stumbling across our paths while we were in the middle of changing in and out of dress (as there was only one). And of course using an assistant photographer (Kristen), who has no understanding of how a camera works and in especially a hard study in trying to explain the mere concept of a double exposure, useful to me whatsoever. Save it to say, Kristen was rewarded for her willingness to participate. Unlike the time a friend of mine dawned red wig and jumped into the a extra wide skirt with me one halloween long again, Kristen is and will always be my only identical twin sister.

Photographs by Nora Schaffer

A beautiful portfolio of images by Nora Schaffer taken during her time spent on the Trelex Amazon Residency.

From Nora Schaffer

25.03.2014 - 25.03.2015

C1 is one of our favorite trails. It goes along the river north of the port and then wraps around along the bank of a turquoise creek as far as the big phaicus which is conveniently not that far from the lodge. A nice hour and a half long walk at the artist pace, and our chosen walk for the day. The researchers had a light morning of washing macaw diapers so we extend the offer of diversion. Carla with her machete and Tom with his cameras are happy to join.

We pause at an open cut in the line of trees guarding the river and begin our inspection. I had taken Tom and Melanie over here for a series of sweetheart photos just yesterday. Kristen, who begrudgingly serves as my second assistant (if she only knew how to read the light meter I'd make her first), spotted a beautiful tree snake just as Tom and Melanie were about to kiss.

No snakes today. We move on. A bluish fronted jackamar flies into the picture briefly and hope is regained. We exchange stories as we walk knowing full well the forest is listening. Tom is a few steps ahead at the next lookout. My face is following a finely drawn labyrinth of roots when the word otter drifts through my ear.


"No...well maybe..."
We all lean far over the torn earth to get a glimpse. About forty meters south are ripples spewing across the swift upstream current.

Without much consideration we run back to the beginning, yesterday's garden of Eden. I'm holding my camera high in one hand and my bag low in the other as I scramble through the vines and roots. I'm the last to arrive. Three sunny backs crouching hand on knee over the edge. I find my place next to them and there he is, the sweetest little face I ever did see.


"Aren't you the cutest wittle thing you ever did see you cute wittle thing."

(I'm not sure but it almost seems as if he was annoyed we missed him when we first passed).

Without any hesitation we coo and kiss and devolve into baby talk as this rather oversized otter lifts himself onto the bank about two meters below. His wide toothy grin is useless in putting up that barrier you'd usually place between yourself and carnivorous jungle creatures. Pretty soon we're belly down on the ground reaching out to him.

After a series of urgent calls on the Walkie talkie we finally have what's left of the research team gathered. Our new four-footed friend is pawing below us on the bank. He gives us a chance to take a few more videos and snorts goodbye before slinking back into the river. Devastation found its why into our eyes as his bobbing head drifts away.

Goodbye dear friend!

He's halfway to the river's other side. He turns to us and smiles. We break into enormous applause, crying, jumping up and down. I've never clapped my hands so hard. We don't stop. And nor does he. It's that moment when the Seabiscuits of the world pull ahead into first place. Pure Pride. Our otter is coming home.

Kneeing on the soft mud to welcome him, we tell him how much we love him and how much we never want him to go and he barks and whines and we know he feels the same.

That was yesterday. We still miss our otter. We've named him Percy even though the hard overnight rains mean that Percy has moved onto another scene of his life.

It's not the first time we've anthropomorphize the jungle wildlife. There is Wendy, the mouse opossum, who visits us at night. It's easier to believe there is just one Wendy. There is Tortellini the golden-toed tortoise, who talks very slowly of course. There are all the many Macaws. Mandy Lu and Chechewy love to take Selfies and the naughty Tabasco only likes the creamy center of Oreos. The monkeys don't have names, but they are definitely like you and me, perhaps just better at jumping.

Perhaps. Perhaps it's like this for some parents. We cannot help reflect something in ourselves unto the very young, innocent ones. Until they can talk our language, I'm pretty sure that we will continue to provide them with personas not of their choosing. We could also go into a discussion of racial superiority and/discrimination towards people with disabilities, but we'll save that discussion for later....

One thing is for sure, we are patronizing the species we talk down to, because somewhere we got it into our heads that these animals have less than a two-year-old's cognitive ability. I look at Darwin. His principal of natural selection admits that all species are equal to each other, a utopia without hierarchy. He wrote just short of including humans in this equation. But I believe in my heart that he thinks no higher of human's evolution than he did of his finches'. It is because we, as humans, believe that we are smarter than these animals, especially the cute ones. The challenge we face is learning to speak Otter, Opossum, Tortoise, Macaw and Monkey.

Is this a problem we need to fix? Does it hurt anyone to draw sketches of "parrot divorce court". Or design jungle animal emoticons? Or write our latest animal Yelp reviews? Should we stop creating memes of cute cats? Or even giving names and voices to our animals unless they can give their express consent? Do these animals even mind? Etc, etc...

For the moment, I'm am going to continue to finger paint an army of red-coated Macaws.

Tambopata provides the setting for this reflection, a place where species so specialized as the Taragana fire ant and the Tapir remind us they are just has highly evolved and superior as we are. And it just makes you ask, "what they think of us?"

From Nora and Kristen Schaffer

25.03.2014 - 25.03.2015

Up the Rio Tambopata, near the national reserve, we relax in a noisy little oasis.

We are lost to the rest of the world. So much so the slightest reminder throws us back into it.

Taylor Swift is currently poking a hole in our isolated, but vast glistening bubble. On the plus side, when discussing the possible advantages to Alina's sudden and unexplained deafness, she cooly replies 'that is my defense mechanism", protecting herself in this lost world.

We've been taken in by the jungle, adapting as the animals do hiding in the presence of vibrations, or in our case, music. Waking each morning by the extraterrestrial moans of the howler monkeys and falling asleep to the scratches of the mouse opossum above the bed, not to mention the pterodactyl-like shrieks of the macaws unseen from underneath the hatched roof passing by all day long. It all leaves poor Taylor sounding a bit boring.


Today we just made art. Alina drew in the morning. and Kristen and I did a test shoot around the lodge for my project in the afternoon. We've been wandering the forest for days. Since before sunrise to after sunset. Saay led us through the forest with utter poise, saving us from unseen ants under extending branches and waiting patiently as we took it all in. We're allowed to go out on our own now, but today we didn't. We sat and soaked in the glory.


The difficulty, as artists, is trying to focus in the middle of sensory overload. I've done many photo studies on texture, but here you find patterns, repetition, detail, complexities, and dynamics in just about everything. Oh, and not to mention RGB. This is a true wonder bridging the gap of nature and technology. Aside from the occasional tropical bird or fruit, everything is red, blue, and green. Very little blending. Sort of mod, in a hippie way. I'm anticipating the S-curvve.

All the researchers and tourists take great interest in our practice. The researchers question and hope to engage with out practices. We sit at the bar and chat each evening. Tim, the lovely manager here at Tambopata Research Center, is warming up to the idea of us holding work-shops on rainy days. He even suggested doing formal presentations on the work we're doing, which we will gladly do. We take equal interest in the researchers as they "play" (observe) with baby macaws and climb great trees.


The tourists, from Norway, Japan, Toronto, California, New York, Germany, and Australia (thus far), have demonstrated both intrigue and discomfort at our presence, the latter of which I was not anticipating. The three of us have been immersed in artistic communities for so long (those in London, New York, Toronto, and elsewhere), that we have plain forgotten that art isn't always considered 'real' work or a reason to come to the jungle. We've heard "Now, why on earth would you shoot 35mm?" or "Were your parents artists?". Each time is another opportunity to practice on our presentations.


Let's just say we are perpetuating a fascinating dialogue pulling on threads from the lives and minds of those living here and those just passing through. I was worried for so long, well for three whole weeks, that 27 days in the most isolated place I could image would be too much. Now I savor each second, hoping time will slow itself so we can continue to see and enjoy this unimaginable beauty.

From Alina Dolgin

21.02 - 13.03.2015

Walking from the boat I held my breath. My eyes focused solely on the narrow path before me. The Refugio Amazonas Lodge greeted me like a ship rising out of the green. I was at once invited to join a group walking on the trails over the coming days. The unexpected nature of things to come was not to be underestimated.

During my stay, I spent 5 days going on the trails for up to 5 hours at a time. The combination of joy and a new level of physical exertion were overwhelming but still familiar and tangible. Less familiar was the demand to engage with the environment. The physicality of the terrain contrasted to my usual predictable urban experiences, such as walking on concrete. I found myself navigating locations full of unfamiliar shapes formed from intertwined living and dying vegetation.

The guides taught us to move through this landscape whilst astounding us with their knowledge and awareness of our surroundings. The variety of landscapes we reached with their guidance was impossible to replicate without them. Besides giving scientific context, the routine of walking the trails helped me to adjust my daily schedule to the demands of the climate. In my case, it also built up my courage to face the unknown…  

After a few days, emerging from the fog of my first impressions, I was left with some open questions. Firstly, the recognition of the synergy of every object in the forest, not only visually, but also on a functional level: for example, in the co-operation and the co-adaptation between the animals and the plant world.

This functional and aesthetic unity is so obvious, that I wondered how do humans, upon entering this space, fit into this ecology? The second question followed of how to transmit my experience of a place whose essence cannot be reduced to its parts; and moreover, what would a reproduction of the experience achieve? 

This question of visitor versus inhabitant was probably fuelled by the environmental concerns that see foreign influences as primarily intrusive to the habitat.

But equally, this notion lingered due to the feel of the place. The experience of being there wasn’t a mere moving through the landscape; it felt more like acting it out. The skin sensitive to the heat or the occasional fright, the feet sliding or climbing - negotiating changing horizon and points of view.  Through the relational nature of my intrinsic physicality, I felt completely immersed. Hard to think oneself a detached observer when one is molded into space in that way. 

Simultaneously the corridors and the enclaves, the tiers, the shadows and the symmetry of plants made it feel like a series of spaces or rooms. Heterogeneous and delicate, appearing dependent on the direction one was facing and seemingly only existing at this one point of view. The architectural feel was also supported by there being virtually no breeze - a large unmoving stillness.


The experience of inhabiting the rainforest called for seeing the space as ‘lived’ rather than a vessel containing objects defined by proximity to one another or myself, and that fact alone seemed worth probing. The objective environment became a subjective one that was at times hostile and truly disorientating, but mostly humbling in its serenity – infinitely unfolding.

This residency was planned as a time for me to find a way back into independent work. My desire to enter into a dialogue with a place coincided with and contributed to my re-evaluation of my position in the world and the art practice. As my body acted out and recorded the landscape, I felt the need to interrogate my position as a participant rather than an observer. As a stepping-stone to answer that question I ‘practiced’ orientation as an interaction with and an active construction of the space, whilst paying tribute to that powerful place.

The series of work that I then began is based on observations and aimed at tracing the active ‘reading’ of space, as it unfolds before the eye.

By keeping this process transparent and allowing the composition to ‘open’ sequentially, I think the viewer may trace gestures and lines to find that illusory space in the two-dimensional work. I have an interest in requiring effort from the viewer to negotiate the surface of the work, to reflect how making sense of our environment requires lived time. How much effort is one willing to put in, so that the unfamiliar may come to feel nonetheless harmonious? Can the viewer accept not knowing, being disorientated whilst choosing to stay willful and engaged?

I brought some books and articles along that could help focus and shape my practice. While researching interdependence and the idea of a lived body, I stumbled upon symmetry as a good companion for my practice at the residency.

Symmetry may exist on a plane or as completely enclosing 3-dimensional space - a complete unit in itself. This echoed the forest as a complete organism.

Mainly because the household has a routine I found it difficult to work inside the Refugio Lodge, as I was the only one outside of the tourists' schedule. When I did, it sometimes felt awkward and inconvenient to the team and compromised my privacy.

However, staying at Refugio prepared me for independent exploration and gave me space and comfort to acclimatize to the forest.

I then spent two weeks at the Tambopata Research Center, where the proximity of scientific research is more conducive to my way of working. I think Michiel in his post writes brilliantly of the challenges and joys of talking to guests and teams at the lodges.

Rising around 5-6am allowed for more working hours, as a rest of 3 hours around midday was unavoidable. When drawing, the wide brimmed hat was vital, especially as standing still in the forest attracts insects - it doubles as a frame to hang a light cloth over creating a kind of curtain for the face. I quickly found that setting up a whole painting station was overambitious, and settled for faster sketches, but at the lodge, there are folding chairs designed to take along to bird watching – very handy for drawing as well.

Another material that I found essential was a varnish to fix the pencil lines, as pencil will bleed into paper. Paper absorbs the moisture overnight making it very soggy. For the same reason, I put every piece of paper that I wanted to save overnight into plastic wallets (usually used for ring binders or plastic folders). To expand available storage space and to dry paint or varnish, string came in handy, as well as clips. Finally, to express my gratitude to the hosting community I brought a number of boxes with colored pencils for the local school found in a stationary store. Also, some solid rain ponchos for the guides found at a hardware store. Both are near the famous market in Surquillo, Lima. For future visitors, a welcome gift would be a memory stick with films, and chocolate, for the Research Center team.

Some practical notes:
- There are good shops for art materials in Lima. Two are in Miraflores just 5 min walk apart. One is on the corner of Av. Ernesto Diez Canseco and Calle Alcanfores, the other called Van Dyck is in Av. La Paz
- A fantastic place to print good quality images and a lot cheaper than in London, for example, is Centro de la Imagen in Av. 28 de Julio 815, Miraflores

Leaf Portraits by Alina Dolgin

From Michiel Schepers

4.12.2014 - 4.01.2015

The rainforest was my home for a lavish period of more than five weeks: a most generous opportunity offered by Trelex in the Amazon Residencies and Rainforest Expeditions.

The rainforest is a unique environment because it is situated outside human civilization. Pristine forest by definition eludes human order - we can clear it away but we cannot govern its growth. The forest interior lacks the straight lines and angles of human constructions. To work as a painter in the forest is to do an internship outside civilization.

My final objective was to be in the forest, walking and working on sketches and drawings, and not to go somewhere else, or aspire to something not yet present. Wildlifeviewing and birdwatching, like research, hunting and colllecting, are dynamic pastimes. They concern things and answers that are not yet there, still to be found. They keep us busy, and lead us on, at the expense of our awareness of the here and now. As artist-in-residence, I felt I should take responsibility for the here and now, and not let leave it aside, while looking for more spectacular birds and animals.

The sea of leave from the canopy tower, Refugio 50 x30, watercolour

My main discovery, while sketching on the trails of the vast Tambopata Reserve, was that the primeval forest is static, not dynamic. The forest space may be governed by growth and decay, but I saw neither. Standing under the trees on the forest floor, gazing up and down and around, nothing moves, grows or falls apart. The leaves are fresh, or worm-eaten, or dry on the ground, but none change shape. Even though I learnt that fallen leaves and organic matter swiftly metabolize back into the trees, I never saw this. This I consider an important discovery. During this long residence I have tried to give it shape in sketches meant to depict not process but final product. These forests have looked exactly as they do now since time immemorial. Yet strangely, their appearance has rarely informed serious painting. They even resist photography, unlike the creatures that inhabit them.

Leaflitter, 30 x 20, watercolour

Still life, 30 x 23, watercolour

The forest is a space composed of living organisms which, paradoxically, do not continuously change it but keep it as it is. It is inhabited by animals that fly, walk, climb or swim, but they follow fixed routines. At eight in the morning, the smaller parrots are at the claylick; at eleven the great macaws can be counted on to be there instead. The wondrous antbirds are restless but fixed residents of the undergrowth. They call from the same spots every day as I pass.

Ceiba, 30 x 40, preparatory sketch, pencil and chalk

Ceiba, Posada Amazonas, 50 x 65, watercolour

What the trees and vines, the tangled undergrowth and the high canopy compose is a unique interior, in which none of our rectangular and geometric rules of interior design play any part. Treetrunks and branches are crooked and divided; foliage is formless and diffuse. And yet the tangled space in between is perfectly accessible – as long as you don’t catch the sharp hooks of the bamboo in your clothes but step gingerly around the obstacles. When you learn to look at it it is even elegant in all its details. The effect of being in the forest is to be comfortably embedded in a most subtly shaped and finely differentiated home. The mood of those shady chambers and corridors is serene. 

The painter’s problem to overcome is the initial shapeless impression, yes, the near impossibility of looking at the tropical forest. It baffles me. Too much, wherever I looked confused the eye. I was tempted to keep my eyes on the muddy trail before me. But with time, with patient standing there, a few steps off the trail, and sketching the little leaves, the thin stalks, and the darker shades of treetrunks further off, the forest let me in on its masses and tangled lines. To feel at home there, in the one space not affected, where it survives, by mankind, is a truly ecstatic sensation.

More practically

As Nina Rodin rightly observes on the website, an artist in a tourist lodge must improvize: paint in the bedroom or carry stuff back and forth to the tables in the dining areas between meals. He or she must bring all materials, paper and canvases along, or paint on disused mosquitonets or rough hardwood boards… I did mostly preparatory drawings and watercolours, so I must extend my residency at home in Holland, to paint my grand conclusions…

As this residency is new, the staff, guides and guests were not yet used to it. So far from civilization it takes some explaining to introduce oneself as ‘artist’. The scientific approach to nature is much more congenial to the guides, researchers and visitor… To explain what you are doing there may leave some healthy doubts in the artist’s own ‘artistic’ sense of identity. It goes without saying that an effort is needed to feel part of the constantly changing lodge community. The importance of three communal meals a day must not be underestimated – not just for their excellent quality. In the two lodges where I felt most interest and support from the permanent staff it was most comfortable to be. With the excellent guides, who come and go with the guests, I shared most of my love for the wilderness, the trees and the birds. They are the key to quickly feeling at home on the trails.

Guide with guest, 20 x 30 pencil

Plié in fourth position, Refugion, 30 x 40, pen

Since the regular guests never leave the lodge without their guide, I had to gain that privilege, indispensable for my solitary purposes (‘with a companion the eye remains closed, and inscape will not come’, Gerald Manley Hopkins). In the Refugio and the TRC I accompanied the guides and their guests for a few days until I knew the trails well enough to go alone. In the Posada I decided (and nobody objected) to explore the trails by myself, which is quite confusing and exciting. That confusion and excitement too is essential for a sense of the undeveloped wilderness.

In general, I would say that this Amazon residency is ideal for any landscape artist habitually exposed to the elements. For a more conceptual artist, the confrontation with the raw wilderness must be full of discoveries. I am dying to to hear from those who will take up the challenge in the months and years to come, and to see their work.

In practise, there are no great dangers for a cautious person. I did come home, however, with an insect bite that has every appearance of a potentially serious illness: Leishmaniasus, which I must have caught at the TRC; it does not occur at the other two lodges. I will have to watch it and perhaps seek treatment if the wound doesn’t heal or multiplies. By the way, there has been no case of malaria in this area in recent years…

Any further questions of a practical or impractical nature are welcome, as they will remind me of those wonderful days among howler monkeys and motmots, jacamars and antbirds, but above all, amid the leaves.

Michiel's Facebook Page

Signs of life from Michiel Schepers

4.12.2014 - 4.01.2015

Michiel Schepers was the first artist resident at Trelex Amazon with Rainforest expeditions. Within a few days we managed to have quite a long skype conversation with image and all: I sat in Switzerland looking out at a very frosty and dead still landscape and Michiel was of course sweating and competing with the sounds of the forest, a conversation I will not readily forget. But our conversation quickly turned to purely professional matters. We talked about art, skill, individuality, what is and what is not painting, what it means to be contemporary, etc...

Since then, we have met for lunch and an unusual museum visit in Amsterdam (The green room) when I asked Michiel for permission to reproduce some of his Facebook posts from his time at Refugio Amazonas. Here are excerpts:


'I feel like Alexander von Humboldt getting permission from the king of Spain to visit his overseas dominions, which privilege no foreign explorer had enjoyed for ages - so the great German genius took full advantage and spent years exploring the Orinoco and the Andes, as far south as Lima, which he despised. Though much less deserving than that universal man, I too got permission to visit a place normally reserved for the well-heeled eco-tourists (the 'sophisticated traveller'), where by chance I can be artist-in-residence for a while, in the sublimest natural environment I know… though wet in the rainy season.'


'mouthwatering images of the explorer in the jungle, in this case Alexander von Humboldt and his companion Bonpland on the Orinoco river and in his field lab with a few of their discoveries. In those days all birds were shot to be studied; now my binoculars will suffice to catch them in my inner eye! I hope I will have similar pictures to show of my own situation on the Tambopata river, for which I am about to depart...'



'Artist in residence in a place that does not know the fine arts! This rainforest is a place for scientists, hunters, loggers, tourists and the staff of the lodge. The tourists barely manage to stand the heat and the humidity and the bugs, bats and spiders (lovely hairy spiders at night) (and frogs, birds, monkeys, and the prints of the jaguar in the mud). But this is the dream of an artist who has an eye for trees. (...)

Even though sketching is hard, standing up, sweating, slapping at mosquitoes (the swarms of so-called sweat-bees fan my skin with their wings, and sip sweat without biting) I manage to do my 'work', and hope to show the people of the lodge what I am here for - besides birdwatching.

The great art here is not the art of painting but the art of not sweating too much. Needless to say I am a beginner at that art. But learning. I do my sketches, and walk the walks and talk to the guides, who are very good guides, and their clients, who turn out pretty nice too. So I survive, culturally, and socially, in the jungle.

See below, a Ceiba, lupuna or kapok tree, the greatest tree of the Amazon forest I think, together with the Brazilnut trees, and of course the strangling fig. I'll upload, if the wifi and electricity hold out, a picture of me inside that latter tree, where the original tree was around which it wrapped itself. These trees are all around the lodge, and visible from the canopy viewing tower, a 30 meter steel construction, to reveal the sky and the billowing sea of green.'

'Now the figtree with me inside. And a macaw clay lick. Look closely in the centre: they are eating the clay to supplement their diet…’


'Had I been a modern or contemporary artist in residence, here deep in the Tambopata reserve, I would have worked with local materials furnished by the jungle, to effect small interventions in both the forest and the lodge, that would shake the tourists, researchers, monkeys and myself out of our complacencies, and awaken us to other ways of seeing. I would bring in the sheathes of the palmfronds that look like elephant tusks, and erect an African gate in front of the American lodge, and arrange seedpods to create savage idols for the faithless cosmopolitan, who yearns for primitive spectacles. I would bring in the rotting and fermenting fruits of the figtee to make a stink in the clean lodge, and challenge conventions of hygiene, and so replace traditions of visual arts by olfactory alternatives, which might awaken dormant memories and generally raise eyebrows. I would questions what we are, here seven hours upriver from the urban world. I would ask questions about seeing and being, without answering them. I would present my work conceptually at the 8 o’clock evening talks, showing photographs of geometrically patterned leaves on the forest floor with accompanying paradoxes, delivered in an understated, dead-pan voice and grave-yard manner, that would impress my mystical artisthood upon my audience, who would regard me as a somewhat alien species, a welcome change. My work would impart a sense of ‘cool’ stuff and infinite possibilities, without the corresponding realizations.

But since I am not a modern or contemporary artist but an old-fashioned painter, I refrain from all this, and instead stand patiently with my sketchbook on the muddy trail and draw every feature of the forest: the sparse leaves on the ground, the fruits, mushrooms, vines, the flowering plants and the big trees behind and above it. With some effort and ingenuity I fit it all together, to reconstitute the infinite forest in one finite picture. Instead of bringing culture to the forest as the artist does, I bring the wilderness back to civilization.

Old examples of rainforest drawing; I hope to be able to post some current drawings soon!


'Merry Christmas today! and a happy new year in a week or so! I'm spending this day like any day; we had our Christmas dinner last night, with the whole lodge together, researchers, tourists, guides and staff. In these fotos you see me working in the dining room in the rain, on the trail with a pretty turtle, which according to Richard is a tortoise - I almost beat him at chess yesterday, but he got a draw out of it. Since he is especially dangerous when I'm winning, he usually wins. Where was I? Ah yes, on the trail, where there is much to see, and which leads me often to an overlook on a high cliff, where you see the foothills of the Andes, still fully clothed in unbroken forest, and great clouds, that bring the lovely rain, which cools the air, and liberates me from the obligation to go out...'


'The forest is monotonous, until I run into any of its many inhabitants, or sit down to sketch the trees, or a a thunderstorm gathers and breaks, or the late sun penetrates the gloom and lights up the little leaves. The jungle seems a mess, until I leave the trail and stand, astonished, amid a thousand gently curved leaves in a hundred subtle orders. The forest is dull and green, until it turns motley with colourful birds and flowers. The forest tests my patience, and then rewards it. To walk through the rainforest is a muddy and sweaty affair. Rubber boots wear on the feet. Spines poke through soft soles. Ants are everywhere, and not all of them mind their own business. Sweatbees don’t sting but buzz and get between my glasses and my eyes. Tiny flies bite or sting uncovered or untreated skin; who knows what they carry and transmit. The fresh bamboo stalks have thorns that rip whatever hooks behind them. And yet the rainforest is not uncomfortable. It is not dangerous, and far less demanding than steep mountaintrails. Getting lost is probably the most frightening thing here, but since there are no trails to anywhere else than the area itself, you rarely get lost for long. The animals won’t hurt. The rainforest is serene like our own temperate woods.

What attracted me to this forest of the middle and upper Tambopata river is that it does not stop the way other forests do, at the edge of a field or a human settlement. There are no fields or settlements here. There is nothing but forest. You could trek through it for weeks, months, without getting out of it. To see this is a boyhood dream. Only the rivers with their gravelbars and sandy islands provide wide open spaces. From a high bluff I sketch the river and the forest continuing upriver all the way to the foothills of the Andes. Through my binoculars I can see that those distant hills are also forested. The vegetation ends only in a tiny patch of snow on the uppermost mountain summits that emerge above a bank of clouds. That’s where Puno is, and Lake Titicaca.'

And Michiel posted three more updates while still in Peru from the end of his stay:


'Four ways of working in the jungle:

You/I go to find the biggest tree of the forest, and do lots of sketches, while enjoying the surrounding birds, monkeys, peccaries, and other creatures.

In my/your bedroom unpack paints on whatever small table or chair is available; spread out the dead leaves for still life drawings in greater comfort than on the trail.

Ask for a piece of mosquitonetting, and draw on it with paint.

For relaxation, accompany a guide with tourists to the oxbow lake to see the giant otters.

Today is my last day in the Posada Amazonas; tomorrow I go back to civilization in Puerto Maldonado, and head for higher ground….


'Sketching in the top of a forestgiant I thought would be the ultimate self-indulgence for a treefanatic. And hauling myself up on a rope shouldn't be too difficult. But it was. Not so much difficult as hard. Very hard for a heavy middle-aged body. And quite frightening. It took me fifteen minutes before the guide dragged me onto the platform between the greet branches 35 meters up. But the view through the crown of the tall Brazilnuttree was wonderful. And after ten minutes the feeling in my arms and legs started to return, and the shaking stopped. Then a shower of rain came, and rainbows with it....'



My stay in the forest couldn't last forever. The generosity of Rainforest Expeditions and Trelex Residencies came to an end. What followed can be seen in these pictures:

I do my laundry, so that the civilized world won't smell me from a distance.

Back in Puerto Maldonado I visit the confluence of the Tambopata and Madre de Dios rivers.

I wait for the bus to Cuzco, enjoying a street that could be almost anywhere on earth - in the tropics.

I make my way back to Lima, and climb a hill to get a good view of the capital.

The dangerous neighborhood is pacified by smiling policemen.

I eat ceviche - raw fish marinaded in lemon juice and spice.

I discover the source of the potato.

I sketch children to our mutual amusement.

I also swim in the Pacific Ocean, and then during a stop in Miami, in the Atlantic. Scratch my burnt and bitten skin. Get home with most of my treasured drawings and collections intact.

My friend Richard Thompson is still at the Tambopata Research Centre; you can follow his further adventures there, and here I hope. I must now go to turn my drawings in something as astonishing as the forest itself.