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Oil paintings commemorate a South African world first

A world-first solo stand-up paddle (SUP) crossing of the Atlantic Ocean by South African big wave surfing champion Chris Bertish has been commemorated in a trilogy of oil paintings by local artist Michael Lee. The paintings are designed to inspire South Africans to achieve their dreams even when the odds seem unlikely or impossible.

In March last year, after 93 days at sea, the Cape Town-based Bertish arrived at the Pillars of Hercules at the Caribbean island of Antigua. Beginning in Agadir, Morocco, it took Bertish over 2.5 million paddle strokes to navigate the 7 500 kilometres of ocean. Now a motivational speaker, the winner of the world-renowned Mavericks invitational surfing championship in 2010 survived many dangers, including storms, shark attacks and a giant squid attempting to drag his vessel to the bottom of the ocean.
     “This was an exceptional feat of human endurance and courage by a fellow countryman,” Lee explained. “I wanted to capture the spirit of Chris’s journey in a series of paintings that would do justice to his historic achievement.”
     The paintings, each measuring 101cm x 75cm, are entitled Atlantic Solo, Atlantic Soul and Atlantic Epic. The first, mostly in monochrome, depicts Bertish battling against a wild storm at night and alludes to Hokusai’s famous Japanese print, “The Great Wave”.

     “Atlantic Soul” switches to full colour to show a tranquil scene of equilibrium between Chris, his vessel, an aquamarine ocean, and some of the aquatic wildlife that befriended him on his journey. The third in the trilogy, “Atlantic Epic”, shows Bertish setting off a flare to celebrate his arrival in Antigua against the spectacular cliffs of the Pillars of Hercules.
     Lee has set aside “Atlantic Soul” for auction to contribute to Bertish’s work as a philanthropist for non-profit organisations like Operation Smile, which performs surgeries to repair cleft palates of children from poor backgrounds. Another charity that has benefitted by Bertish’s trip is The Lunchbox Fund: for every stroke paddled in the transatlantic epic, a meal was bought for a school child in need.
     “I’m honoured to be involved in the trilogy series of the SUP crossing which Michael has painted,” said Chris. “The trilogy is a true rendition of the story. It shows depth in character and colour, and is an admirable reflection of an epic journey that I’m hoping will continue to inspire millions of people to believe in themselves, give back and discover what’s truly possible for them.”

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