2nd Blog post about my Arctic Residency

Day 2 –The sailing experience – getting to know the rhythm of the day

 

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So this is the second in what is going to be a series of posts about my residency on board the beautiful ship Antigua, pictured above, which took a party of 29 creatives from around the world, on a sailing expedition up the north-west coast of Spitsbergen to just over 80 degrees latitude. I was the only painter in the group, my fellow travellers included journalists, writers, academics, film makers, installation artists and artists specialising in public engagement.  We were looked after by 4 guides, some of the most awesome people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting, and a wonderful crew.

Unlike some participants who were keen sailors, I’ve never spent any significant time at sea and have had some previous bad experiences on ferries.  Luckily the weather was mainly fair and for the first few days, really calm with no wind at all.  It was decided that we would spend the first couple of days in Isfjord until the winds were predicted to pick up and take us further north.  The first glacier landing we made was at Wahlenburgbreen, a surging glacier,,  which when we were there, was in mid-surge.   The mechanism behind the surges is not fully understood but the glacier front can move up to 16m a day; this may be due to meltwater under the surface of the glacier, lubricating its path.  We were taken to the shore just to the right of the glacier by zodiac, after the 4 guides had landed first and marked out a safe area for us to explore and make work.  I wandered for a while, took some photographs and did some painting in my sketchbook, perched on the snowy beach.

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Photo of Wahlenburgbreen 12th June (taken with Samsung galaxy S8)

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Sketchbook painting

We returned to the ship for lunch and then some people went for another hike over the glacier, I opted to stay on board, find a peaceful spot on deck and do some painting.  I had a happy afternoon in the sunshine with my watercolours and this is one of the paintings I made.

watercolour sketch icebergs

That evening sailing towards our evening anchorage, wildlife was spotted on an ice floe.  Our captain Mario, cut the engines and we drifted closer and watched transfixed as a mother bear with 2 grown-up cubs wandered up and down the ice.  My borrowed binoculars gave me an amazing view and I watched the along with everyone else for over an hour.  It was the one time when I wished I had a better camera with a more powerful zoom, but here is a blurry glimpse.

polar bears(taken with Panasonic Lumix FZ1000)

 

 

 

 

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First thoughts from my June 2018 Arctic Residency

Blog post 1: 21st August 2018

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Snow melt 1

Watercolour and graphite on paper

 

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Snow melt 2

Watercolour and graphite on paper

 

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Rising tide

Iron oxide and carbon pigment on paper

 

Blog post 1 … My Arctic Residency – gathering thoughts

I’ve been home for just over 7 weeks which scarcely seems possible as the experience is still so fresh in my memory.  Slowly my scattered thoughts about the residency are beginning to distil.  I always intended to write a blog and keep a journal during the expedition but the effect of the Arctic on me, was to render me almost speechless.  The experience was often beyond words and I hope that my artwork will make up for deficiencies in my verbal descriptions.  My one overriding thought is that it was the most immense privilege to participate in this trip, in this unique moment of time, when we are just beginning to understand this new geological epoch of the Anthropocene and the changes that we are bringing to the planet. Also, I am more aware of the privilege that pervades most of my existence.

So, what are the lasting effects of this trip? On a local level I’ve become aware of the abundance of plastic in my life.  Seeing plastic scattered over every arctic beach we visited and talking to Australian artist Rachel Honnery about her work has increased my resolve for doing what I can to reduce my use of plastic and contribute to wider schemes.  I’ve joined my local group Plastic Free Lewes and have been to my first meeting.  It was really encouraging to hear what people are doing and planning and I look forward to finding out more and participating in future campaigns.

Regarding my painting, I’ve been working in my studio every day and things are emerging.  I will share some of this work along with sketchbook images in posts to come.

I’ve not stopped thinking about how special the Arctic is and how fragile the ecosystem there is to our changing climate.  I’m also feeling conflicted in that I have witnessed the grandeur of the landscape there but I can see how vulnerable the area is to the increased tourism which is happening.  If you are reading this and think that you want to make a trip there, please be mindful of the organisation you travel with.  Some of the larger cruise ships will leave a larger ecological footprint than a smaller expedition vessel.

I’ve also read some articles about the history of Svalbard, the Svalbard treaty and the importance of tourism to the area now that coal mining is almost finished.   This has whetted my appetite to understand more from a geo-political point of view and I will be doing some more research.

While I was on the trip I painted for hours each day.  The release from daily chores, work and social commitments, along with 24 hours of daylight, gave me unlimited time to paint. Every waking moment was precious and I worked in a small sketchbook as well as on loose sheets of paper, always in watercolour, which it not my usual medium.  I also made work in the environment using snow and the sea and these are the images that I am sharing (above) with you in this post.

My love for the remote and raw landscape of the north has grown even more.  I felt awe and wonder on a daily basis and a feeling of being both completely outside and inside of myself.  I was aware of a strange new connection with time – being both very much in the moment while working, but also being aware of geological time; the naked geology is ancient, some of the rocks being 3.3 billion years old.  I have never before experienced an environment so unvisited by other people and yet the impact of human existence was so apparent: there was plastic debris strewn on the beaches; the rate of retreat of glaciers is accelerating, the disappearance of sea ice even at 80 degrees latitude; the appearance of rain instead of snow as well as the sight of frail and very thin polar bears.

All of this add impetus to my work and I have a strong sense of the need to record my experience through my paintings, particularly as I was the only painter on this trip.  There is such an opportunity for artists to engage with and communicate about changes to our natural world, and it was wonderful to be in the presence of some other artists and writers with shared concerns.

In my next post I’ll share some of my watercolour sketchbooks images along with some of my experiences during the trip.

 

 

 

Bearing witness in the Anthropocene

Its early May and I’m in Iceland standing high on a glacier in 16 degrees of sunshine. This glacier has been here for 2,500 years and covers several active volcanoes.  Today, much of the surface of the ice is melting; drips, then small trickles, gathering into rushing streams, which make crevasses hundreds of metres deep. Our guide tells us if we drop our mobiles down a crevasse it will eventually show up on the gravelly moraine below us.

Where volcanic ash and rocks are scattered on the pristine snowy surface, pools of meltwater accumulate; the dark stones absorbing heat and melting the ice beneath them.  The meltwater slowly erodes the ice until great holes called moulins form through the glacier surface.

This melting is a normal feature of glacier morphology, but the length of the summer melt is increasing and the shortening winter means that this glacier, which is part of the largest ice cap in Europe, is in retreat; averaging 50 metres a year and the rate is increasing. In just 4 years the ice where I’m standing will have disappeared and by the end of this century there will be no glaciers left in Iceland.

Suddenly the air is pierced by a cannon crack followed by an echoing thundering roar.  The glacier above has calved, fracturing the ice which we can see tumbling down above us. Thankfully we are at a safe distance, but it’s still an awe-inspiring sight and one that I am deeply affected to witness.

Throughout deep history, our planet has been shaped by collisions with extra-terrestrial bodies, volcanoes and geological forces like erosion, plate tectonics and weathering.  But now humankind is the greatest of all forces of nature affecting the Earth’s systems: the biosphere; atmosphere; geosphere; cryosphere and hydrosphere.  In recognition of this, scientists have designated a new geological epoch, that of the Anthropocene and the climate change that we are now witnessing is only one aspect of the changes we are making.

My artwork can be a space for people to engage with these issues.

 

Trip to West Highlands and Skye

Have just returned from a week’s trip staying on Loch Duich and having day trips to Skye.  My first time so far North.  What an amazing place.  I’ve never visited anywhere I wanted to paint so much.  The light is incredible, dusk lasts for about an hour and a half and gives great opportunities for painting.  I loved to see the sky reflected in the Lochs especially from the Skye bridge where the sea becomes opalescent after sunset. So, I’ve started work on 3 paintings to begin with although my head is literally full of images wanting to emerge onto canvas (or wood panel). I expect to be painting Scotland for many months to come….

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