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Jorg Schmeisser traveled to Antarctica on the icebreaker Aurora Australis in 1998. The result was a series of works — etchings, drawings and paintings — that became “Breaking the Ice,” a major exhibition showing in Kyoto and scheduled for Tokyo and Yokohama, that explores the majesty and uncanny beauty of the frozen continent.

Schmeisser was born in Stolp, Germany (now Slupsk, Poland), in 1942. He grew up and studied art in Hamburg and came to Japan in the late 1960s to Kyoto City University of Arts, where he is now professor. His many travels have taken him to the Middle East, China, Cambodia, the United States and Australia, where he first went in 1976 and eventually settled with his family.

I have known Jorg since 1968 and followed his work with deep interest and admiration. His brilliant etching techniques have illuminated everything from the minute, jagged lines of earthenware shards found in the Holy Land to the elegant curves of mountain tops in Ladakh and the sweep of peneplain in Australia’s red outback.

In “Breaking the Ice” Jorg employs various media to explore shape, outline and color in a world of “other” beauty.

Here is what he told me about the trip to Antarctica, his art and himself:

“Over the years my interest has changed, I suppose, from recording what I see to responding to it, though it is often difficult to make the distinction. This response to what is in front of me leads to images which are as much about me as about the motive of creating. I think in that respect the iceberg series is for me like entering a new room, a room that is cold but feels right.

“The trip itself was quite amazing, taking 10 days from Hobart, Tasmania, to Mawson Station. The first three days were very rough going. Twelve-meter-high waves, and only half of the people on the boat appearing in the dining room! It was 10 days of extraordinary anticipation, only imagining what the first iceberg would offer; what landfall would be like.

“It was summer in Antarctica and not as cold as one might think. The fact that the sea was not frozen meant that it was above minus 4 degrees. All icebergs are fresh water and they can be hundreds of kilometers long, or much smaller, strangely shaped, in colors ranging from emerald green to light cobalt blue or an exquisite white. The evening light there is particularly beautiful. The white changes to a yellow-orange, and the shadows become purple and violet. Ice that is up to 4,000 meters thick weighs on the continent with an eloquent silence.

“This interest of mine in ice and snow goes back a long way. I vividly remember a family excursion to Wedel, near Hamburg, when I was a child in the 1950s. The Elbe was covered in heavy ice drifts that were being pushed one way then another by the river’s tides. My brother and I hopped onto one of the formations, much to the consternation of our parents.

“Not that I was keen to straddle an iceberg this time, but the urge to get out and into something spectacular, to treat myself to something different after 25 years of teaching in Canberra and Hamburg, was strong within me — to get a glimpse of a white wilderness.

“I wanted to move away from the richness of ‘earthy’ landscapes, human-made configurations and cultures to one of a primary element: water. Water in its different forms. The intention was not to draw the iceberg, not the waves, but the picture of it, that is, my response to it as something that simply doesn’t exist in quite the same form anywhere else.

“When I first arrived in Japan, so many years ago, I was overwhelmed by this country, in love with it, its past and present, the people that I encountered, the art and architecture, the beauty and, in a word, the otherness. Being here widened my horizons immensely. Later, in Australia, one cannot but be astounded by the space and the clarity of the air and, with that, the sheer brightness of the light. The natural formations of mountains and plains, the shape of the coastline and the textures of reefs simply invited me to draw. Now, after the journey to Antarctica, I am becoming increasingly interested in light and color, the stuff of painting.

“I sometimes write diary entries into the copperplate of my etchings; thoughts and depictions of what I find around me at a particular time. Text and image present specific and different information, each in their own way. There is so much that is nonvisual around one, yet part of the true impression of a place and time.

“My family had to flee our home at the end of the war in what was apparently a horrific winter. Of course I do not remember — I was just 2 then. Yet as we grew up, my brother and I often spoke of going back to see the old house someday, and in 1988, we did just that. We chose late autumn for the visit. Our first reaction was: It really exists! Until that time it had been a white spot on the map of our life. Now I could fill in the color, the details.

“Yet some parts of the landscape must have been etched in that 2-year-old’s mind. When we arrived at one place in the forest, I suddenly knew what I was going to see, a lake with a landing at the next turn in the path. And there it was! The landing, though, was just two posts stuck in the mud.

“Perhaps it was the shape and color of the place that had remained with me. These, among other things, guide our responses to what we see and, I suspect, form what we know to be the texture of memory.”

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