Snapshot: Simon Beck

The man walks all day amidst white mountaintops, crafting immense, wintry crop circles with only his trampling feet, a compass, and his ability to count; his ethereal formations a beautiful reminder of the fleeting delicacy of nature… Until the Alpine winds blow them away across the valleys.

As a sixteen-year-old boy, Simon Beck set out into the British countryside with his map, his compass and his keen sense of direction, and delved into the deep, dark coniferous forests, scouring for a gap in the horizon to help him find his way.

On the same day – savouring the cool woodland copse, with pine cones crunching under foot, birdlife in the trees and wafts of wildflowers drifting by on the breeze – Simon won the 1974 British Orienteering Championships; something which put this young boy and his particular skills on the map. And, although this English eccentric is still renowned for his idiosyncratic hobbies, today it is for a different skillset altogether…

Simon’s love for navigating the outdoors wasn’t his only forté. At the age of eighteen, leaving the tangled forests behind him, the young man embarked on an engineering degree at England’s prestigious Oxford university, where he specialized in a plethora of exciting and dynamic fields, far from his beloved orienteering pastime.

During his time at university, Simon volunteered as a cartographer, grafting maps and combining his knowledge of science with his appreciation for aesthetics. And, after completing his degree at Oxford, Simon recalls, “I had a go at an office job, but soon dropped out.” By this time, the orienteering circles with which he was associating had “finally accepted that if they weren’t going to lend a hand and do some voluntary mapping, they would have to pay people for new maps… Which is when I started making maps for money.”

It wasn’t until much later on in his life, however, that Simon’s skills came together in one culminative moment. He had always had a fascination with snow-peaked mountains and snow sports, “but there is no way to explain why. Why do some people like coffee? Why do some people like pop music?” he muses. Fed up with the “miserable” British wintertime, Simon – bearing in mind his love of skiing – made his move to the Alps and bought an apartment there. “There was no concept of snow drawing at that time,” he says.

While inhabiting his apartment in the French ski resort of Les Arcs – full of groomed pistes, stunning views of the snowy blanketed peaks and views over Mont Blanc – Simon had a revelation. A foot injury was the strange incentive that he needed to start making up his own unusual form of exercise; by walking in snow to make majestic drawings from the world of geometry:

It started as a bit of fun. But the foot problem made me decide to quit orienteering altogether and take the drawing seriously. It was my main form of winter exercise.

As he explains it, there was “no reason for not doing the low-grade exercise.” And there began Simon’s habit of strapping on his raquettes, stepping out onto his own powdery canvas into the pure, untouched snowfall and hatching his beguiling geometric shapes.

Today, the fifty-six year old artist uses his competitive orienteering skills, unique self-expression, and knowledge of mapping to plan landmarks in the snow that guide his precise walking patterns, armed only with a compass and a piece of twine. The processes take between six hours and two days to complete and his portfolio includes shapes as large as three soccer pitches, boasting Koch snowflakes, the Mandelbrot set, and the Sierpinski triangle – Simon’s personal favorite.

Every time he steps out onto the immaculate white surfaces, Simon experiences a very basic connection with what he does; he sees the product of his own labor. But, however beautiful his creations are, his work is a constant reminder of impermanence – that everything, some day, will pass.

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