Thursday, August 9, 2012

Art in the Arctic

A small red house at the edge of the world.  Acrylic sketch on paper
 It’s almost time to leave this little red house on Baffin Bay and head back to my other life in Colorado.   I’m watching the sea rise and fall in slow crests outside the studio, the endless cycling of waves and tide on a grey day, quiet and still.  I’m restless.  And I wonder what I’ve accomplished here.

I’ve written in this blog about people and place, kayaking and climate change- but little about my artwork at the artist’s residency.   That’s because much of my daily duty (to myself, my project, and the museum) is focused on various forms of documentation- and paying close attention.  It’s a little less of a studio residency and a little more of a soaking up of land, culture, and environment- which will in turn feed a prodigious amount of creative work back in the US.
I’ve tried to greet this truly exceptional opportunity with the blank slate of an inquisitive mind, and not too many preconceived ideas about artistic outcomes.  I’ve hoped that the experience of being in the beautiful, beleaguered Arctic would teach me what to make, which vocabulary to use.  If I just listen hard enough. I want the Arctic to give me the words- the form- I need to describe all this, rather than being too sure of myself from the start.  Tell me what to do.

 Acrylic sketch on paper. 
 So far this approach isn’t letting me down.

Today I worked on photographing and video recording along with creating a series of cyanotype prints (since the sun was out- a prerequisite for this type of image making).  Some of the photos will be used for reference material as I paint, and others will be rendered later in negative format for cyanotype printing.  The rest is my own visual archive of what really happened on the Arctic Art Expedition.

I’ve been painting every day- small works on paper in acrylic, an economy of scale and materials. (Remember the one bag/20 kilo weight limit on Air Greenland? This had significant influence on what I could drag with me on 6 flights across 3 continents!)  I don’t usually paint landscapes. I’m not much good at it.  But here I've been sketching studies of the ice, thinking of more involved compositions while I push paint around and try to create a likeness which, of course, will never do this place justice.  It’s fun to try, and to fall into the beautiful curves and color of the icebergs. I  remember paddling out at sea, close enough to the bergs to feel their raw power.  Ancient frozen water, a still life. 

Icebergs near Melville Bay.  Acrylic sketch on paper.
While I work I imagine a slew of larger projects which are at the heart of my Last Places ideas, all the things I can’t wait to get my hands into back in the US.  I want to work on big canvases, and I want to work in oil.  This fall and winter I’ll develop these more complex paintings, along with (and rather ambitiously?), a whole new body of porcelain sculpture.  I’m writing and taking reams of  notes about my current ideas and inspiration for the clay pieces.  The awesome part is that my ideas develop exponentially when they’re given time to distill and something essential is allowed to surface.

Upernavik retreat guest book
Then there’s the film editing and video project that is also part of this.  Uh. (I’ve begun to think my new motto must be go big or go home…?)  But time.  I have time.  The months to come will be saturated with the bright light of this work, as if I took an iceberg home in my pocket and put it in the freezer to peek at from time to time.  It’s all with me.  It won’t go away and I can’t forget it.

Close-up of ice structure
Time + creativity = art.  In theory, anyway.  The missing part of this equation is that art and life are inextricably linked.  My thoughts about trash burning and mercury, eating seal (or not) and navigating a kayak through a sea of towering sapphire ice sculpture- all this ultimately carries me back to my work.  The seeds of creation are forever born of the most sacred and mundane of things. 

Acrylic sketch on paper.


  1. Your writing and experiences have pulled me into this world and have made me want to journey to this place of "towering sapphire ice sculptures." Thank you, again, for transporting me there.