Five Deeps Artist

The Five Deeps Expedition has accomplished its historic mission.

Alexandra Gould is the expedition artist of Victor Vescovo's momentous and daring journey with the extraordinary Five Deeps Expedition crew.

Traversing 47,000 nautical miles in under a year with 106 scientific lander deployments gathering data and specimens, this is the first manned expedition to the deepest point in each of the five oceans.

Captained by Stuart Buckle and led by Rob McCallum the uniquely equipped vessel 'Pressure Drop' chartered a course for the scientific discoveries and 39 ground breaking descents of the deep sea submersible 'Limiting Factor' created by Patrick Lahey's Triton Submarines.

Dr. Alan Jamieson and Heather Stewart have uncovered discoveries in marine ecology and geography from the many solo and 2 person dives. John Ramsey's designs for the sub made real by Patrick Lahey have created the unique blend of personalised technology that have made such an ambition possible and in such an inimitable classic sub.

Alexandra Gould has travelled to the South Pacific for the dives to the Horizon Deep off Tonga and up to 80 degrees north for the Arctic circle dives in to the Molloy Hole. Observing all aspects of the expedition has created inspiration for the many prints and paintings made and yet to be created. The art strives to explore the deepest deeps, the people who venture there and how they reveal the deepest marine ecology on our planet.

Inspired by the Five Deeps expedition, the art will capture the dynamic project and its unique challenges as they are revealed for the first time in human history.

Preparatory sketches can be seen here in the Drawings section and as new paintings are completed they'll be posted on the home page, via this link and on instagram.

Press: Many articles have been written about the Expedition, these are my personal favourites. I met Susan Casey and Oliver Franklin-Wallis on the extraordinary Pressure Drop for Victor's dives in the South Pacific, please follow the links to their fabulous articles.

Susan Casey for Outside Online
Oliver Franklin-Wallis for 1843 Magazine

Capturing a new pioneering spirit - An account of the Arctic expedition Sept 2019

Sipping a beer in the South Pacific and planning a trip to the Arctic Circle is surreal.
I told Captain Buckle I’d love to join them on the final ‘Five Deeps’ dive and I wondered how bizarre and fortunate the moment was. Looking around at the Five Deeps crew enjoying some beers I was struck that this was how they lived or at least a big part of it.

Unlike my visit to the incredible world of ocean going voyages, they spent many hours within the schedules, weather and constraints of the sea; funding, permits and charters. As they prepared to sail from Svalbard to the location of the Molloy Hole, it would be an exciting adventure and curiously part of their normal roles. Exceptional people carrying out tasks within exceptional circumstances to the point it becomes normal. I have a lot of respect and affection for this very epic and sincere crew.

For me there has been nothing ordinary about 2019 – it’s the year I have been given the chance to be an Expedition Artist. It began fast with exciting news from Dr. Alan Jamieson about his scientific endeavours. As a result my art had a new focus and energy inspired by the ambitious quests to challenge convention and change the scientific seascape. Meeting explorers and leaders who were planning audacious feats of engineering and revealing plans to traverse the oceans; I was so excited to discover their focused energy and commitment. The enthusiasm I felt touched everything with a surge of potential. As I rediscovered stories, the mounting sense of awe influenced my art.

The months unfolded with a trip to Tonga aboard the DSSV (Deep Submersible Support Vessel) Pressure Drop with a unique two-person Deep Diving Sub (DSV) Limiting Factor, capable of claiming new world records as it repeatedly dived into the deepest points of each of the worlds five oceans. I have already written about that experience but what remains unsaid is what happened next and the challenge of how to manage the expedition momentum.

On 24th August 2019 in the Arctic Circle, the explorer Victor Vescovo touched down in the deepest point of the Arctic Ocean, the fifth and final deep. As I cheered in Mission Control aboard the Pressure Drop my heart pounded in my throat and tears spiked my eyes. Patrick Lahey who embodies everything ‘Triton’ (submersible manufacturers), creator, sponsor and pilot, calmly acknowledged Victor’s communication and congratulated him. I quelled my emotions as professionalism and pride swept around the room. News of the achievement travelled through radio waves, text messages and hushed tones. The exceptional leadership of Rob McCallum and his team at EYOS Expeditions makes it crystal clear that an expedition is only complete when everyone is back safe. So, the buoyant and controlled work of Captain Buckle and his crew and the Triton team followed protocol and completed the historical mission in calm and collected style.

It is incredible to achieve so much in so little time but still the team continues to push the boundaries of the endeavour. In many respects Victor’s achievement is a gateway certainly not a stand alone achievement. It was with renewed enthusiasm that the Five Deeps team launched Limiting Factor again to the freezing depths of the Arctic Ocean with the geologist Heather Stewart accompanying Victor to the unexplored depths of the Molloy Seamount – an expanse of sheer cliffs and pitted deeps. Rich in geological and biological information this submerged landscape had been out of reach until just 24 hours ago.

Dr. Alan Jamieson and Heather Stewart continued to deploy the scientific landers with Triton’s Shane Eigler, gaining samples of stunning vermilion red amphipods and truffle coloured, gelatinous fish. Victor and Dr Jamieson completed the final dive together, a significant dive highlighting the profound achievements that can be made when different sectors work together.

The private enterprise of the Explorer and the scientific expertise of the Chief Scientist have truly opened the possibilities of this historical event that will take years to thoroughly explore, sample and quantify. In the cooperative and shared ambitions of Victor, Patrick, Rob, Stuart and Alan a new frontier has been revealed. It is cold and dark and subject to extreme pressures, it is also now accessible and in its vastness it holds so many patterns of marine life that unify the oceans in puzzling ways. Dr Alan Jamieson will be the first person to constructively build on earlier foundations by providing robust science that can challenge preconceived ideas and prove theories. At the same time his work will give humankind a fresh true perspective on the largest habitat of planet Earth.

I am so inspired that it is a challenge to know where to focus. I’m compelled to create art because of the people, the location, the science, the achievement – these all contribute to a giddy sense of awe and I would be very proud to be able to represent this in art for other people to experience. From the vermilion red amphipods to the deep dark ocean floor, the sheer cliffs of the deep landscape and the pioneering charisma of the team: there is a great amount of momentum to create art but art is not reportage. It is an emotional response and that extra dimension is realised by having an artist immersed onboard.

It is interesting that the actions of the ships stewards and chef’s who provide for the crew, also fulfil a critical role to ensure the specialists can pursue their work because they are well fed and rested in clean cabins. The engineering work carried out by Chief Engineer Peter Coope and Second Engineer Officer Charlie Ferguson work with Electrical Officer Andy to ensure the ship is proactively maintained. This results in safe efficient global navigation of the oceans. That the 35 year-old ship can stay in position for the submersibles triangulation while maintaining sound wave communications is incredible as that requires no more than a rhythmic noise. Air conditioning and water management are maintained to minimise noise as much as to maintain crew comfort and that is vital when two members of the crew might be 7 and a half miles down. The visual inspiration from all aspects of the expedition could take my work in any number of directions.

The people of the Five Deeps Expedition are a community of people whose skills overlap and compliment each other. Who else but an artist tells the engineer’s story or that of the deck hands painting the ship and the intrinsic value of maintenance to keep the crew safe?

The leaders of this expedition continually reiterate that the achievements stem from team effort and on board everyone knows each other well. More than just names there is a real sense of camaraderie because every role is integral to success. This is no mean feat with a rotating crew of over 100 people. It is Captain Stuart Buckle’s commitment to his crew combined with his leadership skills that ensures his handpicked crew go above and beyond to make a good impression on their charismatic Captain.

That is why the personalities are so inspirational – I want to capture their focus and passion and communicate through art just how cool and dynamic they are. To fill out the human aspect of what is already a very human endeavour and the interaction between them and their machines. There are no ROV’s (remotely operated vehicles) capable of reaching full ocean depth 10,925m as they require a tether to a ship to relay data –they typically work in depths up to 4500m although special Government ROV’s can operate around 6000m

My ambition is to contribute art from the perspective of the observer. Welcomed into a highly specialised world of people determined to see the expedition succeed when a mission of this nature must inevitably raise many complicated and difficult experiences. Their hard work and resilience has fundamentally changed our understanding of the sea floor and revealed the engineering requirements to open this gateway to future investigation. Their achievement can’t be overstated as it is their global endeavour that they have shared internationally that helps us forge a new relationship with our oceans.

Working full time on drawings, prints and paintings, I will keep in contact with the crew and read articles and continue my own research into the Hadal zone and geological features.

It is a source of frustration when all eyes are on the expedition and the momentum is building that I haven’t yet created the art. It is interesting that the science aspects are also in this ‘out of sync’ time. I’m newly aware that science often has to play the long game and not be pressured to work to a social demand but instead for the greater good and in the pursuit of quality scientific discovery.

An expedition artist can fulfil a vital role in modern expeditions – I certainly have a different perspective and my contribution to the expedition as a whole and over time could help define the historical perspective, hopefully a true observers representation and as a vital part of the dialogue to be revisited in a decade or a century.

I got the impression that far from being suspicious of art or how they might be depicted, people were curious and happy to oblige me when I sought out an obscure viewpoint or was overly snap happy at inopportune times. Having created some paintings and prints before and during the expedition has certainly helped the crew accept me, knowing I am looking for the human moments that embody the spirit of the expedition.

I also found a willingness to show me new aspects of the work particularly on the science side. The geologist Heather Stewart captured a view of the ocean floor from within LF on her phone and I feel inspired by this action to create art. It is intriguing, and natural that she should want to share her experience and that photo tries to bring her 3D experience back to the surface. Similar things occurred in Triton’s workspace where they were keen to give me access to LF and the way they work. There was perhaps a bit of bafflement as they watch me take photos of bolts, tubes and tools but a distinctive willingness to help the artist regardless.

Dr Jamieson demonstrated sampling the deep-sea fish and describes the traditions of visually preparing the fish with its head lying to the left. It’s a reminder of how visuals help our understanding and the values of a pictorial record of discoveries – it also allows hidden chunks of fish flesh to be dissected and sampled for DNA among other things.

When I sat in Tonga thinking of how to make the Arctic experience distinctive I was overly concerned with warm clothing and a new camera. I was intrigued to meet an ice pilot – what a great title! But I had no expectation to see the polar landscape or flora and fauna, I was destined to see the ocean surface above the Molloy Hole. Unknown to the crew, EYOS has planned a reward for the Five Deeps Crew – a specialist 3 day cruise of the most visually inspiring, dynamic and atmospheric fjords of Svalbard. The excitement was palpable as we stood on deck in the early hours watching a multiyear icepack make its way slowly south.

Watching the horizon I scanned the ice that ranged from straight ahead to 90 degrees to our left and I said wow a lot. The midnight sun of the Arctic had begun to skim the horizon and a grey dusky atmosphere lay suspended between the ocean and the sky. It felt like the witching hour of Christmas Eve when you should be in bed but the moment is too exciting to miss.

For all my eagerness I did miss many things for instance reaching 80 degrees North. It is a big deal, not many people travel that far north and despite watching and waiting I managed to miss the exact moment we crossed – a classic New Year Faux Pas! I missed the Blue Whale on the port side and the first pod of dolphins but that only served to amplify my other experiences. The repeated joy of seeing humpbacks feed, every surge that broke the surface extracted a range of noises from me. I can only compare it to watching fireworks but with so much more surprise, vitality and uncontrollable awe.

Returning to the concept of expedition momentum I am uncertain where to place these experiences. So bound up with EYOS’s expertise and with a tremendous amount of personal reaction, I feel they are secondary to my ambition to portray the Five Deeps Mission. I question if I need to separate the expedition with its clear objectives from the experience of being aboard a unique EYOS expedition designed specifically with this crew in mind.

It surely informed the crew’s experience of being part of a historical voyage. Also the intimate experiences of watching a glacier calve and the weight and power of Walrus bodies that remind me of the Pressure Drop’s weighty steel structures, informs my understanding of the ocean. In part this is why my art is slow. As I filter through experiences, distil ideas and extract moments I am reluctant to lose sight of the overall accomplishment and feeling of the Five Deeps Expedition. How can I represent the truth when I am the fulcrum giving leverage to one concept over another? As an artist I am a biased observer. I have intentions to truthfully depict my experience but that is inevitably to the exclusion of everything I missed and the moments unique to other people onboard. I have shared this article with everyone mentioned in a bid to reduce my bias, but it is strange to accept just how personal art is. I have tried to be accountable but this is my experience of the Five Deeps Expedition it is not a true account for anyone else but it is and will be, how I perceive the world of the Five Deeps Expedition.

I rediscovered a resonance between depicting expeditions and print. I am revelling in the graphic nature of the image that would have had to capture the imagination of passers by, enough to get them to buy a paper or read a poster. Primarily a painter I have changed my approach and created sketches that are interesting and true and then worked these into lino. I created a swift process that captures the energy and enthusiasm to help me keep pace with the expedition’s speed and dynamism. The crafted portraits are a true reflection of the individuals I’ve met but just like characters from a graphic novel they reveal a vigour and sense of epic. While I celebrate them, their distinctive personalities, I hope it speaks of how their unique strengths combined create the successful expedition team.

The photography sketchbooks I have been creating have helped me resolve my uncertain relationship with photography because while I am not a photographer they are an invaluable tool and product of experience with their own storytelling capabilities. Allowing me to represent my experience visually they contain my inspiration and also give a sense of space for the viewer to observe and draw their own conclusions. The first and currently only photo sketchbook was an invaluable tool at the London celebrations of the Five Deeps Expedition success. It allowed me to exhibit my ideas and inspiration to an audience at the Royal Geographical Society, it demonstrated how I looked at the expedition and showed promise for the artworks yet to be made.

I have worked with Niche Editions in Bristol to create Giclée prints for the first time, broadening the appeal and exposure of my artworks. Making images more affordable and therefore available does give the viewer a chance to participate in the celebration of an expedition putting more than just movement on their walls. ‘Above and Within’ shows the shift in atmosphere and hints at the scale between the surface of the ocean and within it’s depths. I hope it conveys the epic nature of the Five Deeps Expedition.

Being an expedition artist is incredible and the wealth of inspiration can be overwhelming but for me it’s partly because I want to achieve so much with visual art. The ambition of the expedition is contagious and I have become more ambitious not just in the range of art or volume of work I want to create but also the scope – that I am trying to create something timeless in an age of speed. Although the epic nature of the expedition has defined the whole trip it was the immersive nature that amplified my observations.

I’ve witnessed a historic event unfolding and although that’s come to an end I might not ever finish recalling the stories in my art. The expedition has become a part of my philosophy and I might spend my whole art career trying to define the perfect moment of the expedition.

I owe the Five Deeps team my gratitude for the experience, inspiration and the renewed love of profanity. For the photos and freedom to explore their expedition and vessels. When they recall the expedition I hope they recognise the aspects I have chosen to focus on to embody the expedition – it was ingenious, ambitious, audacious, historic and a beautiful example of skill, personality and determination.
Lino printing process - portraits of the Five Deeps Expedition crew

Work in Progress