Belgian artist Tom Herck gives an account of his adventures when he set off to an adventure in the Canadian wilderness.

“They took me to this camp at Takla lake (British Columbia), more than 400 kilometers away from the nearest town, where there’s almost no cell phone signal. A place where, if an accidents with animals, guns or other stuff happens, a helicopter has to come. A rough place, not suitable for any average guy. My friends had previously talked about me to the owner of the plane and after some talking, he asked me to paint his plane, a DHC2, also known as Beaver plane.”

“The pilot who owns the plane is a rough but nice guy. He survived a plane crash and suffered severe burns. Fascinated by his story I got to work. I could do whatever I wanted and I quickly came up with the text fly fast, die last, a way of honouring this tough guy’s rough life. Inspired by his life stories, the text on the plane is again a satire on ‘live fast, die young’, transformed into fly fast, die last. The nature of such rough and real people is ‘threatened with extinction’ just like the heroic, fearless eagle that we sometimes saw flying over in the camp. The overall design became a fearless eagle, one side of the plane displays the bird in life, the other side carries his skeleton. The contemporary ‘vanitas’ storyline is prevalent, though drenched in satire.”

“On the fly fast side I created a living eagle, with wings still depicted ‘complete and healthy’ underneath the wing of the plane. The eagle looks aggressive, also reminding me of the WWII planes that were painted to impress the enemy. The means to paint at camp Takla lake were very limited. A few brushes, no cans and some basic paint colours were available so I had to mix most of the colours.The rundown brushes I had to use made the work look more aggressive and not necessarily refined, which I consider a good result. A medal is painted on the fly fast side and a rocket displaying speed. The fly fast and die last lettering on the plane retrieve memories of old school tattoos. The back of the tail is red and marked by the Tom Herck logo.”

“On the die last side the eagle looks like threatening skull, painted in sharp contrasts. The wing of the plane is turned into a skeleton wing, decorated with the skull and crossbones symbol, and a grave marked ‘RIP T. Herck’. The artist’s year of birth 1984 is visible, but the end date is grass overgrown. The story has an open end, though it almost finished right there, in the deep Takla lake waters.”


“Once the job was finished, we went to take pictures. The pilot was running the plane across the lake in circles and we were in a boat taking photographs. All went well until the plane came roaring towards us. We kept the boat running in front but all of a sudden the engine blocked and we couldn’t get it running again. The plane had too much speed to stop or avoid us and bumped right into the boat with the blades just inches away from me. I still had my nikon fixed in my hands when the accident happened, so the last picture of this accident is also the plane coming right at me. The location was about 5 meters deep and about 25 meters from the coastline. At that point I jumped of the boat and submerged into the ice cold water, wearing a big winter coat, risking serious hypothermia. I got pulled to the shore by my friends and put on some dry warm clothes. I had to take new pictures, because unfortunately my Nikon drowned…”

“Looking back at the event now, we shiver at the thought the tombstone was almost filled with the year 2017 production."


© Text by Lara van Oudenaarde.