Header photo credit: Felipe Villegas Castillo www.felipevillegas.cl
Our Monday Motivation series on GuinnessWorldRecords.com profiles the inspiring stories of commitment, courage and and dedication behind some of our most extraordinary titles. This week we're placing the spotlight on a an outstanding Argentinian artist with an ambition for showcasing his work among the clouds.
Miguel Doura’s art reflects the environment around him. What he sees is opportunity; a place high in the Argentinian mountain of Aconcagua, to be one with nature and oil paint.
Like many artists who draws inspiration from the Post Impressionism period, the land is his muse.
When he sits down at his campsite, charcoal in hand, he looks at the world around him – and allows the rest of his instincts to do the work.
This has been his journey since 2003, when he first scaled 4,300 meters above sea level to the upper regions of the local mountain range, leaving behind his small home in the forests of Mar de las Pampas.
At first, Miguel clambered up rugged terrain in frigid conditions for his love of the highlands; but it was the lingering feeling of contentment at the top of the trek that lead to him asking the question: what can I do to stay here?
It’s not often that a small spark can catch spread to wildfire, but for Miguel, this question lead to blazing prospects – and ones that could break records.
By fusing his passion for art and awe of Mount Aconcagua, Miguel kindled what is now known as Nautilus, the Guinness World Records title holder for the Highest contemporary art gallery and a place that provides climbers like himself to immerse themselves in a cultural and creative experience when reaching the base camp of Plaza de Mulas.
“I introduce myself as a curious person. One who looks around, who looks at the sky and feels how small we are.” said Miguel “I feel [Nautilus] gives me opportunity to show or transmit my feelings to those who visit. I try to be honest with my paint.”
From December to February each year, for the past 14 years, Miguel has lived in Nautilus showcasing his work to whoever may visit.
Conditions at that time of the year are a standard -25 C (-13 F), often accompanied with violent winds.
Not many have the ability to withstand such isolating circumstances, especially those encountered by Miguel, who barely uses internet when residing in the plaza.
“I usually do not know what day of the week it is, but I do know if snow or a storm is coming … I wake up in the morning in my sleeping bag, sometimes I see the vapour of my breath frozen around me. If the weather allows, I sit in some of the chairs I have outside and start to paint ... from there I have an excellent view of the whole camp and Mt. Aconcagua.”
“There I feel my spirit grow. Just being there, sometimes I forget that I am on planet earth; I feel far away from any civilisation. I interpret painting to be a sort of freedom, a moment of total honesty. When I´m painting I feel like I’m in bubble, outside the world.”
Ironically, Miguel’s oil-pastel renditions mirror mostly what physically surrounds him, capturing Mount Aconcagua in an array of hues, strokes, and compositions; influenced by the greats of the Post-Impressionistic movement in history, all who have been prominent inspirations in the style of his work.
“I try to show what I feel or how I see the world, and that is usually full of colours.”
While the experience of running a mountain top art gallery can at times be solitary, Miguel prefers the coming and going of those who do visit.
Over the first few years of his encampment, extreme storms have destroyed his first tent, forcing Miguel to purchase a stronger, larger, and more fortified shelter to contain his masterpieces, which subsequently became Nautilus.
“The new tent has a large PVC "window" at one end. When I´m inside looking through the window outside, and snowing, its like I could be a captain of a ship. I once thought the gallery could be named "Enterprise" from Star Trek. But seeing the gallery’s long shape, which reminded me of a submarine, I thought of Julio Verne´s submarine, which is named Nautilus.”
Much like the endeavours that took place in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, the process of setting up an art gallery each year can be both dangerous and tumultuous.
Miguel must take into consideration the minimal forms of transportation to get to Mount Aconcagua, as well as unforeseeable bad weather when sending his many paintings to the mountain top.
He sends his art and camping supplies in packages to the city of Puente del Inca, where they are packed onto eight mules who travel 1,500 m above sea level to the campsite of Plaza del Mulas.
There is heavy risk that the work may be damaged, but it is a chance he is willing to take to be able to support his mission each season.
“The mule is an animal that does not know the meaning of "fragile" or "careful", so it is very important to remember that final thought when sending.”
Once he has transported these materials, Miguel must begin his own journey of Mount Aconcagua where he will live for the next 90 days.
“The most difficult aspect is to establish the gallery. The first day I arrive, I need to acclimate myself to the new altitude. Then, depending always on the meteorology, I start to mount my tent and put up all my things, which takes about two weeks. It is also very important to set the tent up very well, to be ready to withstand storms and white wind. But one set up, the easiest part of it all is to say ‘Hello, welcome to the gallery,’”.
During a typical year Miguel will say that fairly often, to the many climbers who have ventured up the side of Argentinian landscape and into his gallery.
The artist explains that the type of person varies, as they come from around the world - ranging from Alaska to South America or from Europe to Kamchatka.
Often he will spend the small amount of companionship in the winter season with campers who stay temporarily at Plaza del Mulas; eating, sharing stories, and listening fireside guitar music for those who have a knack for playing.
“I remember I started talking to a guy who spoke about the beautiful stars. We have the opportunity to see them at night and, from time to time, from the ISS (International Space Station). He spoke about his time crossing the skies of space, and mentioned he ‘had been there four times’. I looked at him and asked ‘what?’. He replied ‘yes, I’ve been there. I'm an astronaut.’”
Miguel unknowingly had struck a conversation with NASA spaceman Dominic L. Pudwill Gorie, who had completed four missions at the ISS from 1998-2008, and achieved the NASA Space Flight Medal three times in his astronaut career.
Gorie left with a painting of Miguel’s, and Miguel with a once in a lifetime encounter.
In his decade of extreme art exhibitions, Miguel has hosted other interesting people along the way; some politicians, members of the Russian Parliament, poets, scientists, and even sportsmen.
But who he meets is of little importance to the passionate artist. For Miguel, it is the fact that the strangers he happens upon are brought together by his work under the communal haven Nautilus offers.
“Usually you do not know who you are talking to. When we are all ‘up’ we are all the same. There are not many differences; we use the same clothes, the same bathrooms, we eat the same and we have the same smells. We feel the same cold, but we also see the same stars. Anyone can save the life of anyone – to me, all we are is dust in the wind.”
Though the passersby may have different tastes, background stories and come from several corners of the earth, one awestruck reaction is common among all of them which focuses on the official Guinness World Records certificate that hangs each season on the walls of Nautilus.
“At first I didn't understand its real value… I have to be honest, people all over the world know this certificate, and when I say ‘all over the world’ I mean ‘all over the world’. It really certifies that you did or made something exclusive. Hundreds of people have been amazed when they see my certificate hung up in my art gallery, and they stop to take pictures with it.”
Since first obtaining his record in 2010, Miguel has maintained his record breaking gallery each winter faithfully, driven by his lifelong passion for mountaineering.
His next dream, is to climb to the pinnacle of Aconcagua, an additional 2,662 meters above the point he usually stays, with even harsher and more deadly conditions.
Once there, he wishes to sit at the top of the mountain, achieve the record for painting at the highest altitude.
But for now, Miguel Douras is content with his place among the clouds; it’s arduous work, in treacherously cold conditions, but he looks forward to it every year.
“I say that this is a great opportunity for me to stay every season in the camp - I have the opportunity to meet people from all over the world, people who otherwise would be very difficult to know. I get to learn different cultures too. At times I feel that I come back down from the mountain a little younger, and a person who has done a little more good for the world.” Says Miguel, “Not every day is beautiful, there are also days where mountaineers are lost or other sad things… but living there also makes me ‘feel alive’. It reminds me I am alive.”