|LUAP’s Pink Bear is an avatar born from happy childhood memories.|
I’m Paul Robinson, better known as LUAP, and I’m a multidisciplinary artist working across painting, photography, print and sculpture. When I’m not painting or editing photos in my studio, I’m exploring the world with my camera and the costume of my main character, The Pink Bear. My artistic journey has taken me to bustling cities as well as some of the most remote and inhospitable places on Earth.
The work I create comes out of my ongoing journey of personal growth, especially to improve my mental health. Also fundamental to my work are global issues such as environmental change and the experience of isolation.
The Pink Bear wasn’t hiding in a corner or running away from things, it was proud and strong.
In 2009 I was working with my therapist to explore how the idea of trees – which I was portraying a lot in my paintings at the time – represented my sense of loneliness. I had the sense that many of us feel like isolated trees in a forest full of people.
Enter The Pink Bear. When encouraged to look for a positive memory, I recalled the carefree, tender feelings associated with a Polaroid print of Mum, Dad, myself and my brother when we were kids – with a giant 1980s neon pink bear mascot stoically settled among us. The memory of that photograph still brings a smile to my face and takes me to a place of love and safety. When I was uncomfortable in my own skin, I would go to the bear. The Pink Bear wasn’t hiding in a corner or running away from things, it was proud and strong.
Each shot I make of The Pink Bear is choreographed with a real figure wearing a human-size character suit. Capturing my photographic works live, rather than faking the bear in a post-production edit, for me enhances the sense of nostalgia and romance. However, this commitment is also a physical challenge as I negotiate the practicalities of taking heavy equipment – the costume is 20kg (44 lbs) – on artistic missions that are frequently arduous if not flat-out dangerous.
On my most recent trip I traveled across Mongolia for 10 days on horseback, through one of the world’s most remote and uninhabited landscapes, in order to create new photographic artworks of The Pink Bear. I had been planning this trip for three years, with the help of Megan Hine (whom I’m happy to now call a friend). Megan is a British survival expert who has led expeditions all over the world in some of the harshest environments – a real-life action hero. I was originally scheduled to go out to Mongolia in 2020, but the trip was postponed as the world locked down with COVID-19 restrictions. Disappointingly, the lockdown was still in force in 2021. Finally, at the start of 2022, we got the green light, and started the preparations for departure in September 2022.
On my most recent trip, I traveled across Mongolia for 10 days on horseback in order to create new photographic artworks of The Pink Bear.
The nomadic life are slowly dying out in Mongolia, as younger generations are drawn to modern amenities and wealth in the main city of Ulaanbaatar. As the ancient traditions fade away and a life lived sustainably from the land is replaced by instant-gratification attitudes, it is more important than ever to shine a light on the traditional. A key focus of my artwork is the impact on the planet from over-consumption. The decision to make the whole trip on horseback, rather than in an off-road vehicle, was made in order to have a minimal carbon footprint and to celebrate tradition.
|Traversing the steppe on horseback made a challenging project more painful.|
To prepare for the trip I gave up alcohol and take-away meals for 3 months to get in top shape, and I had to begin taking horse-riding lessons because I’d never ridden in my life. It was an entirely new skill that was particularly challenging given a life-long fear of horses. It took me a while to get the hang of riding, especially with my camera gear on my back while trotting around the arena.
No matter how tight I had my bag attached to me it would bounce up and down. In the riding school this was only a mild inconvenience. Unfortunately I discovered it’s a very different story when on horseback for 8 hours a day and trotting up to 2 miles at a time in Mongolia. Sore would be an understatement – bruised and in pain is closer to reality.
|The Pink Bear is always on location with LUAP; the magic happens in real life, rather than in post.|
Making the expedition even more physically and mentally demanding were the extreme temperature changes each day. We experienced +25°C (77° F) sunshine, snowstorms and -15°C (5° F) nights. The outside of my sleeping bag would develop a thin skin of frost each day. When I needed the toilet in the middle of the night I had to be quick – it would take too long to put all my gear on so I just had to brave it. To have drinking water in the night I had to bring it in my sleeping bag or it would simply freeze inside the tent. For these sort of trips the right gear is fundamental or it would be impossible to survive in such harsh conditions, let alone create the artwork.
|The nomadic way of life is dying out in Mongolia, as younger generations move to the city.|
Despite the hardship I found the landscape truly magical – bursting with color even though it was so empty and desolate. The rocky steppes were shades of green and orange as they leaked the copper and iron minerals that are contained within them, contrasting with shades of purple and blue as single clouds passed their shadows over the landscape. The ground at first glance looks barren and dead, but as I looked closer I could see networks of grass roots and tiny foliage ready to burst into flower.
The whole journey felt like being on a purpose-built film set.
The horse I was riding would munch at the longer grass whenever it had the chance as we navigated the landscape, passing over mountains and hills, through valleys, and around lakes. No terrain was impossible for the impressively strong yet small horses. I was told you had to trust your horse to choose the path on such difficult ground rather than leading them. Further color was provided as we traveled by the changing weather and light – from white snowstorms under gray clouds, to glorious sunsets weaving highly saturated skies of endless hues. The whole journey felt like being on a purpose-built film set.
|The desolation of Mongolia is a stark contrast with the magical, colorful sunsets and mineral-filled steppes.|
I must admit that there were moments when I thought it would be so much easier traveling in a 4×4, but the bond I developed with the horse as we traveled through the vast and empty land wound up making the trip even more magical. I wanted to capture the precarious beauty of Mongolia, before global warming and westernization change the country irreparably. The eagle hunters with whom I was working may soon be relegated to legend, and their traditional ways of living and hunting in Mongolia may vanish too. I felt so lucky to be able to experience this way of living firsthand.
|A goal of the project was capturing the ecosystem in Mongolia before global warming changes it irreparably.|
Without doubt the highlight of the trip was the day we photographed The Pink Bear on horseback with the golden eagles in the isolated landscape of the Altai region. But then the day got even better as an impromptu party was thrown and we partied with the eagle hunters and locals well into the night under the stars, drinking local vodka and listening to Mongolian techno. It was the perfect ending to the day, and Mongolia won a permanent place in my heart.
|LUAP hopes that The Pink Bear brings smiles to all, near and far.|
I am dedicated to liberating art from the confines of the traditional gallery space and bringing it to broader audiences. The adventures I go on with The Pink Bear do just that, and this Mongolian trip was no different. The Pink Bear brought smiles to locals and even inspired them to take their own photos of the bear outside their gers in the remote Mongolian landscape.
|LUAP shoots his images using a Nikon D850 and a number of Nikon’s F2.8 lenses.|
Who knows? Maybe decades from now, one of the Pink Bear photographs will spread a sense of warmth and nostalgia to the Mongolians I encountered, as my cherished family photo did for me.
Multidisciplinary British artist Paul Robinson (aka LUAP) dynamically fuses adventure and art through his paintings and photography. His adult-size Pink Bear suit follows him up mountains, through surreal landscapes, into bustling cities and and away to remote locations, juxtaposing them all against his central figure The Pink Bear. Using different mediums and techniques, his art tackles mental health, climate and ecological emergency, and human isolation.
LUAP has exhibited alongside internationally renowned artists, created bespoke artworks for exclusive member clubs and worked with charities to raise money. He is currently planning his next Pink Bear quest and is looking for sponsors to help him reach new heights with this project.