Friday, 18 July 2008
Quadruple heart bypass inspires Juddy to be an artist.
Iraq: Robin Judkin's first painting."I have been collecting pieces of driftwood and timber from Kumara and Sumner beaches for 25 years and “Iraq” landed on Sumner Beach in the form you see it today - two pieces of equal length timber nailed to a wooden upright that might have been part of a gate but now looks like a sign."
Robin Judkins - artist
(Courtesy Christchurch Press)
I have been back in New Zealand five days now and I am enjoying meeting friends and family. Some of my friends are a little "off the wall" and I know that I tend to pick friends who stimulate, provoke and inspire me. Someone remarked to me some months back that a number of my friends are iconoclasts. Maybe he was right.Juddy certainly fits that category as a radical who likes breaking false images or exposing imposters.
Robin Judkins (Juddy) picked me up last Friday at my home in Christchurch shortly before lunch. He came on the pretext of taking me out for lunch to meet Phil and Roget, two friends who are business men.
As we drove away from my house he said “We are going to Sumner first.”
“Why, ?“ I asked. “ Can you read this while I drive .” he asked with a gremlin-like smile. He handed me a beautifully designed brochure of his first painting exhibition to be opened next week at the Kinder Gallery in Sumner. This was going to be a sneak preview for a good friend.
“ Juddy, you are a failed poet and now you are trying to be an artist,” I jibed after the first glimpse. As I unfolded the 8 page brochure, I quickly realised that in the last year, Juddy had made some striking, colourful abstract paintings where Canterbury mountain landscapes dominate and strange art using driftwood.
My favourite of Juddy's paintings: Summit Road West to Mt. Hutt
We chatted as he drove me to Sumner explaining that after his quintuple bypass operation on April 17, 2007 he started contemplating a fairly bleak future.He soon came to the stark conclusion that he would turn his disability into his opportunity and on July 14 2007, he picked up his daughter Bonnie’s paintbrushes and painted “Iraq, ” thirty-nine years after he had painted a portrait of a girl he had fancied at University.
“I have been collecting pieces of driftwood and timber from Kumara and Sumner beaches for 25 years and “Iraq” landed on Sumner Beach in the form you see it today - two pieces of equal length timber nailed to a wooden upright that might have been part of a gate but now looks like a sign, “ he proudly recalled.
“Iraq” took two days to draw and paint and then I couldn’t put the brushes down. "Everything I looked at every piece of flotsam and jetsam took on a new meaning,” he said with intense passion.
His exhibition comprises 48 of his works and have to be taken seriously as the new pretender on the Canterbury art throne, brings 58 years as a rollercoaster rebel, at times an innovative creator, at times in the past, a fiery event organiser, depending on his mood.
"Goat Pass Hut." Another of Juddy's paintings. For climbers, trampers and Coast to Coasters, this is a refuge we have all appreciated.
Old Juddy and I go back a long way. I met him first when I did my first Coast to Coast in 1985 and after that we became firm mates.I did the COast to Coast three times before moving overseas again.
With Robin Judkins (left) a few months before his quadruple heart bypass
Three years ago Juddy came to visit me in India and we travelled to Nepal together and had a great time in that fabled city, Kathmandu. We're good mates and exchange emails every so often. Usually I start off with the phrase, "where are you?" and, are you still alive?"
Just over a year ago his reply was, "yes, but just. I've had a heart quintuple bypass." Juddy's determination to drink life to the lees, saw him slowly but surely recover. Some years back we talked for more than an hour about disabilities and how you need to turn them into opportunities. We marvelled at our friend Steve Maitland, who lost a leg in a motor cycle accident, and was regularly able to beat most people with normal legs on the Coast to Coast, a gruelling endurance event over the Southern Alps of New Zealand then kayaking for four to five hours down a major river. Steve Naitland did this event countless times and never saw himself as handicapped in any way. He had the guts and belief he could do anything and he did. Similarly Juddy has made a marvellous recovery after his quadruple heart bypass. Juddy, or Robin Judkins is the organiser, inventor of the Coast to Coast.
"Lifeguard Morning Whitewash Head" by Robin Judkins. A painting of the pre-dawn from his home in Sumner.
Robin Judkins is a man in the happy position of having seen his moment of insanity become a cash cow. A quarter century after he dreamed it up, Judkins' Coast to Coast is no longer seen as a race for mad bastards – the uninsurable in pursuit of the unendurable. In certain circles it's now almost a CV requirement.
It used to be asked "why would you ever want to do that to yourself?"
Says Judkins: "The question now is `why haven't you done it?'"
The extreme has gone mainstream, become an industry. Triathlon New Zealand estimates that 60,000 people are doing triathlons and duathlons alone. All sorts of people, many with only limited athletic background, are carb-loading and running up creek beds, and Judkins' iconic gutbuster is now just another date on an event calendar crammed with mountaintop scrambles and epic bike rides. Those making gain from the pain range from the bike shops flogging $5000 super-suspensioned rides, to kayak courses, to the physios healing the battered bodies. And Judkins is up against a new generation of event organisers who'd like nothing better than to see their brainchild become the new Coast to Coast.
"They're trying to knock me off my perch, to be bigger, to offer more. But that's great. It forces me to lift my game."
What's behind all the expensively accessorised masochism? When government sports agency Sparc reviewed the multisport scene last year it found participation rates increasing across a range of what would once have been regarded as extreme-sports events.
Most competitors were in their 30s or older and growth was particularly strong among women.
The report highlights a general sharpening of awareness of the importance of health and fitness, particularly among women and baby-boomers, and suggests multisport appeals strongly to New Zealanders' supposed individualism and love of the outdoors.
It also appeals to the modern consumer mindset.
Says Judkins: "People don't want to join sports clubs, to attend AGMs and sit on committees. They want it clean and simple, to pay their money and go. And we wind it out for them like that."
Changing attitudes to ageing are probably also part of it, as is the ongoing boom in recreational cycling, with mountainbiking acting as a gateway into multisport.
"Recreation and the way we do it has changed," says Judkins.
"We used to go off into the mountains in twos and threes on tramping trips. Now we go in our hundreds but we call it mountain running. And as part of that, the clothing, the footwear, the packs and the food and everything else we use has changed."
Christchurch-based Jan Kees Kirpensteijn, a former sports masseuse, has built a small business out of the multisports boom designing racing kayaks. He estimates a third of this year's Coast to Coasters were paddling one of his.
"It used to be just the bushmen doing this, now it's office people, twice as heavy as they should be, who are waking up and thinking `there must be more to life'. So they come in all shapes and sizes, and as a result we've had to start designing bigger boats."
In some respects, Robin Judkins was the catalyst, and notwithstanding some sticky moments – he cites 2002 when he was on the brink of putting his company into voluntary receivership – he's done well from it.
"I'm comfortable," Judkins says. "After 25 years doing this, I'd hope I was comfortable.