How The Pink Bear connected the inner me to you, the outside world, and nature
I must have been five years old when my dad cut down the apple tree in the garden to make way for a swing. I cried and cried, my face pressed hard up against the glass as I looked out on the garden. I obviously felt a strong connection to the tree. When my dad came back in, I asked him if the rest of the trees could be mine – perhaps I could save them, I thought. The swing my dad put up was for me, but I felt no connection to it.
I would never have described myself as a tree hugger, especially not back in the 1990s in Grimbsy, UK, where I grew up. That would have been decisively uncool, though I was called by that name when I barked at friends for snapping saplings for a laugh. But it was a simpler time – no internet, no cell phone, and nature was our escape, donning our explorer hats, far from parents and TV screens.
Then came adulthood. Then came loneliness. Then came a series of works titled Lone Soldiers (2008-2011): a piece began as a single tree photographed in diverse environments, then superimposed on wallpaper invoked from my childhood. It reflected me and my mood. Drifting, guarded, isolated, a solitary tree in a forest surrounded by trees. I have the feeling many of us feel like isolated trees in forests full of people. The pandemic has contributed to exposing this harsh truth ever more.
Some days I am the strong tree, nothing can move me. I am invincible.
Some days I am the old tree that has shed all its leaves. I am vulnerable.
Some days I am the lone tree standing in solitude. I am surviving.
Some days I have been overgrown by all that surrounds me. Overwhelmed I suffocate.
Most days I am never the tree that I want to be.
I am, however, a tree.
Disconnected from people around me, I struggled to really communicate. How could I? I was even disconnected from myself. It’s called dissociative disorder, they told me. And as life happened, love came and went, my depression deepened, and with it the vast disconnect. This is how I discovered Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT). I was in need of a lifeline, desperate for a bridge to connection.
With my therapist we explored trees, as I pictured them. But she turned on a different light when she asked me to draw a tree or three to represent my emotions or people in my life and how I felt about them. We then had another session where I visualized and drew the tree I wanted to be. The tree I am and the tree I would be were polar opposites. And so I shed my negativity and embraced positivity. As my branches spread and my leaves sprouted, I grew a bridge to connection, enabled by nature.
A bear for connection
Enter The Pink Bear. Like the wallpaper before him, I invoked the carefree, tender childhood memory of a picture with Mum, Dad and my brother when we were kids, a giant stuffed 1980s neon pink bear stoically among us. The sheer memory of it 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 bear is that feeling of not accepting yourself in front of others, as you internalize it all and disconnect to be who you are not. The Pink Bear became the vehicle with which I crossed that bridge to the connection nature had gifted me.
The Pink Bear begins his journey photographed in the very forests that created him, bravely exploring the confusing, solitary sense of loss. Much like many of us have begun to feel when thinking of real forests on our planet. The Pink Bear melts away fear and darkness with the warmth and joy of innocence lost by just being there, a hidden light in the darkness empowering me to be the star of my story.
The Pink Bear’s first forages onto my canvas also took him through those dark forests, seeking love, coming across lonely, all too lost. It turns out he had to be lost first to be found, and so the figment of my childhood illuminated the darkness of my work with joy and warmth, cast as the protagonist of his story, and I of mine.
The epitome came when I set out (bear-less this time) with a varied group of people, a jumble of personalities and abilities, to climb the four highest peaks of the Atlas Mountains in Morocco. The journey was spread out over ten days and, much to my frustration, I kept struggling to remember names. But as we lent each other helping hands and shoulders and exchanged smiles, helping each other struggle up the mountains, as we trudged up the final steep slope, exhausted, dirty, weak, and haggard, I remember how we overcame the summit. The dawn’s first rays spilt over the horizon, washing over me and drenching me in warmth. With a smile spread across my face, I could not recall the last time I had felt such overwhelming freedom and joy. Nature, once again, lowered a drawbridge to connection, connection with my human companions, connection to myself.
“I used to be a polar bear”
Travel, nature, and camaraderie liberated me and inundated my being with positivity. I had reconnected to the natural world, which I had so bitterly mourned as a child. This time though, I couldn’t let that proverbial tree be chopped down; I deeply felt the desire and need to show our beautiful planet and home to others. The Pink Bear decided, thus, that “he used to be a polar bear,” a climate refugee seeking out beauty to inspire humans and encourage them to protect and value what he has lost, his home. For them, it may not be too late.
I used to be a polar bear. If we don’t do something to help save the natural world, one day it will be gone and become a myth, eliminated like an apple tree to make way for a plastic swing. We don’t need a swing; we have the trees. And if we need a swing, let’s hang it from the trees’ branches, and find balance among nature.
Multidisciplinary British artist Paul Robinson (aka LUAP) dynamically fuses adventure and art through his paintings and photography, drawing from his own experiences. His adult-size Pink Bear suit follows him up mountains, surreal landscapes, cities and remote spots in far-away places, juxtaposing them in stark contrast with his central figure The Pink Bear. Using different mediums and techniques, he tackles mental health, the climate and ecological emergency, and isolation head-on.