Susan Fox: There is no other place like the Land of Blue Skies

By Allyson Seaborn

American artist Susan Fox lives on the north coast of California, but has come to Mongolia seven out of the last eight years for long visits. Although not an expat in the true sense of the word, she’s no tourist and has been to more parts of Mongolia than most of us. Her first trip here was in April of 2005 via the Earthwatch Institute, which sponsors a variety of research projects, providing volunteers the opportunity to promote an understanding of sustainable environments. “I saw a new expedition called ‘Mongolian Argali’ and thought that Mongolia might be an interesting country to visit,” Fox says, having already been on three Earthwatch Expeditions. It was then that Fox’s eight year love affair with this country first began.
“My first on-going involvement in Mongolia was to work with the Denver Zoo, which operates the research camp at Ikh Nartiin Chuluu Nature Reserve, to help establish and support a local women’s felt craft collective called ‘Ikh Nart is our Future.’ They have been going for three years and I’m very proud of what they’ve accomplished in that time.”

Fox’s passion doesn’t stop with volunteer work or expeditions. She’s also a highly accomplished artist who works full-time as an oil painter. As a result of her close affinity with this beautiful country, she now specializes in painting subjects from Mongolia and proudly tells me, “as far as I’ve been able to find out, I am the only American artist who does that.”
I ask about her favourite subjects and she describes how she loves painting Argali, the world’s largest mountain sheep and the Takhi or Przewalski’s horse – the only remaining species of true wild horse. Fox also enjoys painting the domestic Mongol horses and Malchin (herders). I’m also curious to know what subjects Fox be painting in 2013. She responds by saying, “I’ll be doing Siberian ibex and probably a few species of birds in the coming year. I also really want to paint the local Naadam wrestlers.”

Fox’s focus is to gain a deeper understanding of one place rather than what she describes as, “skipping around.” In the past, she’s focused on both North American and African wildlife – after spending time in Kenya, but now thinks, “There simply are not enough hours in the day to paint all the Mongolian subjects I would like to.” She’s passionate not only Mongolian wildlife, but about the land and people of Mongolia as well. “There is no other place like the Land of Blue Skies. I love getting out onto the earth roads and as deep as I can into the countryside, camping if possible, and visiting herder families.” She also tells me how she loves the dairy foods and the mutton, not to mention a good cup of airag.
Fox has an exciting new initiative under way which is a collaboration between American artists and Mongolian artists – she’s calling it: “WildArt Mongolia.” The first project will be a three week trip to the western Gobi next August called the WildArt Mongolia Expedition. “We will explore three areas with endangered species (Altai Mountains, Takiin Tal, Sharga) and visit at least one remote lake (Boon Tsagaan Nuur and possibly Orog Nuur) that Roy Chapman Andrews studied in the 1920s,” Fox explains.
“I’m excited about the arts and culture of Mongolia and was able to meet and visit the studios of a number of Mongol artists on my last trip. It was a very special experience. Our connection as fellow artists transcended any language barrier. This came about through an art event ‘American Artist Susan Fox-the WildArt Mongolia Expedition,’ that I did last September in UB at ArtiCour Gallery.”
The ArtiCour Gallery now officially represents Susan Fox and next year you’ll be able to enjoy the privilege of seeing more of her works at this gallery which is located at 1 Chinggis Avenue, downtown UB. For more information about Fox’s upcoming WildArt Mongolia Expedition please visit: http://foxstudio.wordpress.com/the-wildart-mongolia-expedition

Q&A Time:

-Describe your first visit to Mongolia:
I came in April, 2005 to participate in an Earthwatch Institute-sponsored research project, Mongolian Argali, which was, and still -is, located at Ikh Nartiin Chuluu Nature Reserve. The Denver Zoo, working with Mongolian scientists and graduate students, are carrying out the only study of argali, the world’s largest mountain sheep. Ten of us volunteers spent two weeks living in a ger and spending days out in the reserve in constant wind and daily highs of 32F assisting the scientists. There was quite an impressive dust storm one afternoon and evening during which our world turned pumpkin orange. I loved every day of it. Afterwards, I managed a short trip to Hustai National Park to see the Takhi (Przewalski’s Horses) before I went home. My guide and driver also took me on a quick day trip up to Terelj, to a ger factory and the section of the Narantuul Market that sells everything ger. I had no clue about anything, but knew that I needed to come back, which I did the next year.
-What is the best thing about being in Mongolia?
-Almost everything- the wildlife, the land, the people and Mongol culture, the traditional foods- although I am aware of the challenges that Mongolia faces, both socially and economically. This last trip I finally got meet quite a few Mongolian artists and that was truly wonderful.
-How has UB changed since your first visit?
-I feel like I arrived just in time for the end of “before”, after which all the changes started. I came back in 2006, missed 2007 and returned in 2008. By then “after” was in full swing, with just a mad amount of new construction going on. I used to feel that I had to bring everything I thought I would possibly need with me, especially over the counter medicines and even toothpaste. No more. Things are much easier now as a visitor. ATMs have made the money part simple. Wifi mostly works now and is readily available.
-Describe a perfect weekend in Mongolia.
-A tent camping trip as far out into the deep countryside as I can get, visiting herder families, sketching, taking photos and just being there.
-What’s your advice to UB newcomers?
-From getting to know and becoming friends with some “real” expats, I’d say flexibility is key, and not getting upset when things are done differently than one is used to at home. Remembering that a set of circumstances might mean something very different in Mongolia than where you come from, so don’t be quick to judge. I’ve found that there are usually reasons that make sense in terms of Mongol history and culture for why things are done a certain way or not done. Emotional restraint is a good thing to practice. Westerners can tend to vent at every little thing, which becomes tiresome and is almost certainly counterproductive.
-Is there anything you can’t live without in UB?
-The beds are impressively hard everywhere I go, so I always have a Thermarest sleeping pad. I also bring a small bed pillow that I’ve cut down to fit in my duffle.
-Have you managed to learn any Mongolian?
-I’m working on it. It’s slow going since I don’t live there. I listen to Mongolian music when I’m in my studio and I work on vocabulary. I leave pronunciation practice for when I’m here. I can leave simple comments on Facebook. I have quite a few Mongol friends here, which lets me see the language every day.
-What’s your favourite UB restaurant/s?
-One favorite is BD’s Mongolian BBQ. I like Le Bistro Francais, Nayra, Bangkok, Luna Blanca and Khaan Buuz. The restaurant scene has become quite something since I first visited in 2005.
-What’s your favourite pastime or something you like to do to relax when you’re here?
-I like to go to Gandan Monastery to sketch and just sit and watch the people. I don’t find UB to be particularly relaxing, so I get that when I’m in the countryside.
-Picture Ulaanbaatar 20 years from now and tell me what you see.
-I see a world-class capital that is a great architectural mix of old and new and, with luck, good public transportation to reduce the traffic load in the city center. Still vibrant with a lot going on. The coal-fired power plant will be closed and there will be lots of solar panels on the buildings, so UB will be a much more visually pleasant and healthy place to live. The ger districts will either have been replaced by apartment buildings or will at least have services and infrastructure to make them reasonable places to live. I hope there will be a good social safety net in place for young, old and sick people.
-What is your favourite Mongolian food?
-I love the mutton in any form and also all the white foods, especially orom.
-What music do you listen to when you are stuck in UB traffic?
-Whatever the driver is playing since I’m only in a car when I’m going in and out of town. But I have a bunch of Mongolian music on my iPhone and a small speaker and will queue up Javhlan and play his albums. Breaks the ice and gets a smile every time.
-Who inspires you?
-A number of artists, mostly wildlife/animal artists, like Bob Kuhn, and early explorers of Mongolia like Roy Chapman Andrews. Mongolian artists inspire me with their creativity and energy.
-What was the last book you read?
-Mad, Bad and Dangerous To Know by Ranulf Fiennes
-Do you have a favourite quote or motto to live by?
-A Mongol saying: Destiny chooses the challenges a person faces. The person decides how to respond.
-If you could have dinner with 5 people who would they be?
-Chinggis Khan, Winston Churchill, Roy Chapman Andrews, Thomas Jefferson, Oscar Wilde; Chinggis I’m not sure about, but the other four were epic raconteurs.

Short URL: http://ubpost.mongolnews.mn/?p=1911

Posted by on Nov 22 2012. Filed under Community. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

2 Comments for “Susan Fox: There is no other place like the Land of Blue Skies”

  1. [...] Seaborn, who is an editor for the UB Post, wrote to me asking if she could interview me for a feature, which we did via email. You must have an account to view my profile, but here’s the link to [...]

  2. [...] The next contact came through LInkedIn. I was looking through the list of possible contacts the site provides based on who your current connections are. One of them was Allyson Seaborn, who writes for the UB Post, the leading English-language newspaper in Mongolia. What caught my eye at first, though, was that some of her page was in Mongolian cyrillic. I sent her a connect invitation, she accepted and then a day or so later sent me a message asking if I’d be willing to be the subject of one of her regular expat (expatriate) columns. I told her that I don’t live in Mongolia, but she felt that I have traveled there extensively enough (7 trips so far) and that being an artist would be interesting to their readers. In this case, she sent me a short list of questions about me, my work and my activities in Mongolia. There was also a list of set questions that every subject of the series answers. You can read “Susan Fox- There is no other place like the Land of Blue Skies” here. [...]

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