Antarctic Mural and Painting

During his artist’s residency, Xavier Cortada created art honoring Antarctic explorers and scientists. Researchers in Antarctica develop knowledge that is of great importance to our scientific and human advancement. Their work proves how relevant the continent is to our daily lives. The pieces were created for and remain on permanent exhibit in Antarctica.

Homage to Shackleton (South Pole Station):

shackletonXavier Cortada, “Shackleton in the South Pole,” mixed-media on canvas, 24″ x 18″, 2007

During his stay in Antarctica, Cortada created a portrait of Sir Ernest Shackleton, who came within 97 miles of being the first to reach the South Pole.  In a follow-up expedition, the Antarctic explorer attempted to traverse the continent but wound marooned with his 27 men on a polar ice floe.  Enduring the harshest conditions for almost two years, they all survived.

Cortada thought to honor Shackleton by “placing him” permanently in the South Pole, the place that so eluded him in life.  The artist hopes that Shackleton’s portrait (which is on permanent exhibit inside the United States’ Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station) serves to inspire those now working in the most inhospitable of continents, especially those who winter during cold, dark months in the South Pole.


On January 4, 2007, Cortada presented his “Shackleton in the South Pole” painting to the South Pole Station’s NSF Representative Jerry Marty and Station Manager B. K. Grant at the Geographic South Pole, conceptually bringing the Shackleton to the place he so longed to reach. The artist created the portrait using canvas, acrylic paint, crushed Mt. Erebus crystals, soil samples from the Dry Valleys, soil samples from Ross Island, McMurdo Sound seawater, GIS maps of the Antarctic continent, copies of historic photographs and maps of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s expeditions. In essence, through his painting, Shackleton brought to the South Pole pieces of the continent he “opened” for the rest of us to experience.

The McMurdo Station Mural:

mural-mXavier Cortada, “Why did you come to Antarctica?”, mixed media on canvas, 48″ x 96″, 2007

McMurdo Station is the largest of the three year-round US stations in Antarctica. Everyone in the McMurdo Station is with the National Science Foundation flew in to either support or direct working on a science project. During his artist’s residency, Cortada created a collaborative “message mural” asking members of the McMurdo community what brought them to Antarctica. Participants wrote their answers on a piece of paper which the artist affixed to his 8-foot long mural. Cortada created the mural on wood using the participants’ messages, pastels, acrylic paint diluted with melting sea ice from the Ross Sea, soil samples from the Antarctic Dry Valleys and a giant satellite photo of Ross Island, where McMurdo Station sits.


On January 8, 2007, the collaborative mural was unveiled during a lecture the artist was presenting the McMurdo Library. Cortada presented the mural to McMurdo’s National Science Foundation Representative David Bresnahan. The art work is on permanent exhibit in Building 155 at the McMurdo Station.