Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Yukon - Large in your own life

Total expansiveness -- Tombstone Range, Yukon Territory

A dear friend wrote me the following words before I left for my artist residencies in northern Canada this summer, and I have carried them like a souvenir seashell in my pocket for months:
"So much movement -so much change- so much magic
You are living in the middle of the best magic and we all can tell 
because the world is giving you everything you need 
not many people can travel this path with you 
and not many ever travel this way at all.
Be large in your own life - the universe says so."

Small home, big world -- mixed media on paper by Rebecca Barfoot

It is mid-November and I am back in southwest Colorado, savoring old friendships while also longing for the north-land and the slow earth pace of life there. This morning I woke thinking yet again, be large in your own life.  Me, you, are we doing this? 

I know that now is the time and it's all about leaping and bounding instead of walking with measured constraint across the open vistas of our lives.    

Large as life / bull caribou, Big Alex Ridge, Olgilvie Mountains - Yukon

Least Weasel - smallest carnivore in North America! - from a backpacking trip to Fold Lake, Blackstone Uplands - Yukon

I remind myself that a leap like this is what delivered me to the northern latitudes this summer, and what allowed richly cross-pollinated opportunities in art, ecology, and education to present themselves so that my original 5 week engagement flowed quickly into 5 months!!!  Back in the States, a similar trajectory continues and I've just been riding the waves, letting life spill over while landing softly and solidly and bound by gratitude. 

Rooted and Rising -- mixed media with Yukon blueberry dye on paper -- by Rebecca Barfoot

One of the things I noticed immediately in the Yukon was the striking juxtaposition of an impossibly vast macro-landscape with the equally luminous world of the pixie-sized microcosm - and how each biome informs the other.  The tangle of sphagnum moss, bog cranberry and reindeer lichen at my feet describes the endless arc of unbroken wilderness spinning to the horizon even as they seem to exist separately and as opposites.  I know this relationship is important to explore in the work to come, and that the intimate as a gateway to the infinite mirrors the idea of small lives lived large.

Dall sheep - ewes and young - dwarfed in the immensity  -- Tombstone Territorial Park, Yukon

Bearberry foliage, high tundra -- Blackstone Uplands, Yukon

Autumn highlights and color swoon -- Discovery Ridge -- Tombstone Territorial Park, Yukon

A fairy forest of wintergreen called 'Single Delight' - late summer near Dawson City, Yukon

Be large in your own life and the work you choose to do, I think, because the world needs this from all of us right now. 

Nurse log comes to life with sphagnum moss, pixie cup lichen, bearberry and more - Klondike River Valley, Yukon

Hang on, Yukon -- mixed media on canvas by Rebecca Barfoot

Saxifrage -- brilliant, adaptable survivors of the north  -- Angelcomb Peak, Tombstone Territorial Park, Yukon

Writes Sally Kempton, Buddhist scholar and Dharma teacher, in her recent book Awakening Shakti:  "Our awareness is not only connected to the power of awareness in other creatures, but it is also a miniature version of the great awareness that is the source of all that is. The subtle worlds that lie between the transcendent vastness and the physical universe are also inside our own subtle bodies, ready to be experienced by anyone who has the stamina and grace to enter into the inner world of the heart."

And the heart of the world, I would add. The microcosm coursing through our ancient aliveness, firing the pulse of our being.  We share this and yet we have forgotten it.  It is time to remember. 

Swallowtail at rest on caribou moss --  Olgilvie Mountains, Yukon

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Small Work, Big Ideas: YUKON

Late night after rain, North Klondike River valley, Tombstone Mountains, Yukon
A sliver of blue braves the milky white cloud-sky this morning, giving me hope as I unfold myself into the wet world outside my tent.  Day after day delivers rain in these Yukon mountains and a nearly sun-filled pause in the low dome of moisture leaves me grinning.  I can cling to blue and its possibilities. 

The bluest blue.  I live for these days!!!
 I didn’t know I’d be spending the whole summer in northern Canada.  It’s become late August.  I am pioneering an artist in residence program at Tombstone Territorial Park, camping and working with the park’s Interpretive Centre on arts/ecology education while also tending the fires of my own creativity.  I’m exploring the land as much as possible, smitten by a revolving presentation of rainbows and ethereal twilight as we move deeply into fall. 

Rainbow and oncoming storm near North Fork Pass, Tombstone Mountains, Yukon
Beneath the daily flow of art and teaching I'm privately trying wrap my head/heart around the sense of raw wilderness that – delightfully and astonishingly – surrounds me here.  It is truly awesome, in the same way that glaciers and icebergs were for me in Greenland.   I am small here, surrounded by dreams as fast and wide as the waterways that cleave these moss-covered hills.  And I am learning to let the earth cradle me when it feels like nothing else can or will.

"Drunken Spruce / Forest Family", acrylic on tree-free paper

Tundra Raven, Olgilvie Mountains, Yukon.  Mixed media on tree-free paper.
 I’ve stumbled upon what I call a last place, an ecosystem still incredibly undisturbed.  We have no reference point for this in the South - the lower 48 - and I understand how fragmented everything has become. Wilderness like this takes your breath away, leaving you mute and grasping for a tether to guide you home across the tracks of moose, caribou, grizzly and wolf.

Caribou antlers fall where they may in Tombstone Territorial Park, Yukon.
I haven’t had much online access here this last month.  We are solar powered and off grid at the visitor center where I work.  I’m finally returning to social media and this blog, overwhelmed with how to begin and what to say of my current experience in the north.  I know that photographs are a great place to start, though they reveal only the surface rather than the soul of these cloud-topped mountains, spruce forest, and sub-arctic tundra.  

"Small home / big big world", mixed media on watercolor paper
Artist’s residencies are one part making/creating and one part looking and seeing.  I'm constantly alert as if I’m scanning for grizzly on the horizon.  Right now my days are heavily weighted to accommodate a growing cache of impressions to be doled out slowly in the coming months.  I am the alpine pika stockpiling food for winter.  My voluminous notes, research and outdoor adventures in the Territory are crucial sustenance to carry me forward.  Creating art from raw experience, distilling wonder into something articulate and palatable while capturing the ephemeral - it takes time.
"Ravens over the Continental Divide", Tombstone Mountains, Yukon.  Mixed media on watercolor paper.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Yukon!! -- Boreal Forest Art and Ecology

Local art adorns the hardwood forest of birch and poplar outside Dawson City, Yukon Territory.
 Greetings from the land of the midnight sun!!  I've traveled North again and this time I'm writing from an artist's residency at the Klondike Institute of Art in Dawson City, Yukon Territory, CANADA.  I'm thrilled to be here.

My initial draw to the Yukon was to continue investigating the tally on wild lands in the North as our planet continues to warm up and get crowded.  I also want to know what "big wild" really feels like, and to (re)consider the notion of Last Places that I began with in Arctic Greenland.  Does undeveloped, non-industrialized land exist in any meaningful context in this world now and what does it look like beyond a remnant of a romantic ideal? 

I'm happy to say that from my ground level post here in the northwest corner of Canada, the land appears to be doing well.  My immediate sense is this: earth as utterly staggering in scope and impossibly vast.  I'm aware there's much more to the story than this, but for now I think, take it and run with it.

"Thaw" -- Mixed media on tree-free paper by Rebecca Barfoot.

There's also a secondary and more personal magnetism that drew me to northern Canada: I've been obsessed with trees since I traveled to Greenland.  They've worked their way into my paintings, sculpture, and into my earth-bound, starlit  imagination. There are no trees in Greenland - and it occurs to me that perhaps I've fallen in love with absence.   

"Mother/Bear Boreal" -- Cyanotype with mixed media by Rebecca Barfoot.

The Yukon is dominated by boreal forest, the largest terrestrial biome on Earth.  Known at taiga across Russia, it's the green halo of northern woodland that girdles our globe just south of the Arctic tundra, serving as Earth's "cooler" and regulating temperatures worldwide. 

Here around Dawson, the boreal consists largely of paper birch, black and white spruce, balsam poplar and aspen.  A walk in the woods for me, on a more intimate level, is to feel cradled, sheltered, and supported.  One of the more subtle and nuanced interests I have as an artist concerns the internal  landscape - both personal and collective - and how it reflects the state of our natural environment.  I am beginning to explore the mirroring of inner/outer landscapes in my work.

Deep Forest -- Mixed media on tree-free paper by Rebecca Barfoot.

Beyond the poetry of trees in form/metaphor is my growing awareness of the biological imperative of the forest in function. Large volumes of boreal woodland are logged for paper pulp (cardboard boxes, magazines, catalogs, paper towels etc), oil and gas extraction (Alberta tar sands...), mining and general money-making.  But destroy the forest and you eliminate the planet's most effective method of uptaking (via photosynthesis) and storing atmospheric carbon dioxide (in both living and dead plant matter).

One of the byproducts of our shifting climate is the phenomenon of  "drunken" trees in the boreal, tilted and falling as the permafrost thaws beneath them.  Earlier this month I noticed stretches of lurching stumbling tumbling black spruce (picea mariana) on the 330 mile stretch of road between Whitehorse and Dawson.  It's terribly wrong - and oddly beautiful.

New pond-scape created from melting permafrost, Alaska Range -- Photo Credit: Michael S Quinton
"Drunken" Black Spruce, Yukon.

"Tilt", Yukon Territory, Canada.  Mixed media on cyanotype by Rebecca Barfoot. 

More soon, with love from the North,  Rebecca @ action rising out of stillness, all wings and quiet thunder.  -R.Barfoot, May 2014

Sunday, February 23, 2014

25 at 9,500' -- A Winter Artist's Residency

Breckenridge, Colorado.  9,500 feet above sea level. Deep snow angled against the studio, more white falling from the sky, a swirling winter wonderland.  I've made myself at home in the historic Tin Shop, which was bought and renovated by the town's well endowed Arts/Historic District and is now offered as a cozy guest artist's live/work space.  I was a resident here in 2009 and had the good fortune of being invited back for the month of February.  I am now in the midst of  25+ days to make all the art I can make - and I'm off and running!!

Winter in Breckenridge... snowy Wonderland!!!!
 As always, I've come bearing some notion of my intended projects, but I always allow myself to follow creative tangents as they arise.  It's a bit like tracking an animal through the forest on a winter's day, fun and then fruitless, hopeful and maddening!  Now on my ninth official artist's residency program, I've learned that this is the best time to explore brand new creative ideas and to allow myself to wander into uncharted territory with complete abandon. Since I work in a variety of different media, this can lead to some frantic overwhelm - along with sleepless nights - but I am going with it!!

"Lay Down Your Grief And Kiss The Ground" -- a mixed media piece I created for a traveling exhibit called 'Down the Rabbit Hole'... 
"Earth/Ice Listening" -- Studio installation in progress with encaustic wax, discarded paper towels, charcoal, xerox transfer and pencil drawing.
"Tea Series/Mindfulness" -- work in progress -- discarded tea/bags, Usnea, map, paper towel, beeswax, damar resin, box elder seeds, and ink on paper handmade from old lists, fliers, junk mail.
"Tulugaq/Raven of the North" -- ink, charcoal, and acrylic on tree-free paper
 Along with developing new projects, I've also finished a large commission piece for a buyer who shares my appreciation of raptors and other winged things: Tulugaq/Raven, whose range takes her into the Arctic.  I'm currently working on a second commissioned painting, Falling into Blue, which is a creative exploration of color, feeling, and possibility.  As a friend writes, "the breezy surface pulls you in... and then you fall into the mystery."  To me, blue is the essence of what I found in the very far north - rock and ice, sea and sky - and a reflection of the world that lives inside us all. 

"Northern Nightscape Ice-land Aurora Love", study #7, ink and acrylic on tree-free paper
A pile of my hand made paper in the Tin Shop.  Such pleasure in recycling my To-Do lists into creativity!!
 I'm exploring more ideas about Greenland and the Arctic; about land-earth-ice, climate-environment-ecology, human relationships and how the din of our lives can keep us from hearing feeling seeing knowing.  I also find myself creating simple works of art that are - essentially - a celebration of life and aliveness.  The beautiful miracle of it all, like a love letter to Greenland penciled around the girth of the planet.

I've also discovered a relationship between Breckenridge - this cute snowbound ski town in the high Rockies - and the Arctic: our climate delivers the possibilities of change more swiftly to those places that are either high up, or far up. Altitude vs. latitude.  Here the snow drives fast and hard, while at home in southwest Colorado, drought is the hallmark of the current winter season.  What next??

 For me, I've been invited to go North again this summer, to live and work in Canada's Yukon Territory at the Klondike Institute of Art.  May I discover there an untangled pathway to creating sculpture, installation, painted images, porcelain objects and word-craft that resonate with meaning and reach beyond me into the vastness.  As the poet Mary Oliver has written, "I want to be improbable amd beautiful and afraid of nothing, as if I had wings."  Onward. ~