On the 16th of February I flew North from Edinburgh to Oslo, then onwards the followng morning, beyond The Arctic Circle to Longyearbyen, Spitsbergen, 78 degrees Latitude.
For one week I worked as a guest of The Czech Center for Polar Ecology, observing the growing light and rapidly drawing in 1 minute stints before sheltering my hands from -26 C wind, whilst navigating across sea ice and deep snow; Absorbing the bewitching and extreme environment at the top of Earth, processing it all and responding with paint in sketchbooks and on large pieces of paper which instantly became crusted with ice sheets- I was painting the landscape and the landscape was forming on the surface of my paintings…
Then I flew further north, over dazzling sea ice, giant mountains and glistening glaciers,
To Ny Alesund, the most northern research community on Earth, 79 degrees Latitude.
The Norwegian Artists Association selected me to inhabit the Artists’ Cabin in Ny Alesund, during the annual period of the Sunrise.
The research time involved exploring the magical landscape and comprehending the delicate atmospheric changes the environment undergoes as the Arctic transitions from Polar Night to Midnight Sun; Feeling its totality and responding with paint.
Daily Kingsbay meals: Time to communicate and connect with Scientists from all over the world, learning about the propurse of the fragile equipment which whirrs all night and day, anchored in the snow or floating tethered to a wire- observing air pressure, cloud density, Arctic weather, aerolsols, the ocean, the aurora, stratospheric clouds, the phases of the moon… A valuable injection of knowledge- exchanged with information about my painting processes: Anti-freeze mediums, paper and paint, colour, texture, light, tone, levels and layers, sun beams and reflections, clouds and refraction, snow and density, panoramic views captured in concertina sketchbooks and films recorded, tripod and self-timer, wind and flags, bare flesh walking through snow: White ground, red silk, body and pigment.
My work then continued in Longyearbyen for two more weeks- based again at The Czech Station.
I was kindly given the keys to the LoFF Bird Hut (usually open only in Summer), on the edge of Adventdalen,
which became my painting studio.
Daily I would shelter from the -40 C gusts of wind and paint in response to the growing light and mystical colours emerging in the sky, on the pristine snowy peaks and on the glistening frozen Fjord.
Inside my Loff studio I mixed 96% Ethanol with pigments and paint, instead of water, to prevent the mediums freezing so quickly- despite this time-aid, icicles would freeze almost instantly on paper, brushes and on my skin-
The Loff Hut provided beautiful shelter and the most spectacular outlook I’ve ever had from a studio, however without heating, the temperature inside was -20 C and my clothes, nose, toes and fingers would quickly freeze. I interspersed spurts of painting with walks and jogs North, East, South and West, feeling the perameters of the environment I was painting. (Lots of hot coffee and dark chocolate were also helpful in maintaining warmth in the blood!)
Since returning to Scotland, we have all been enduring this surreal period of lockdown due to COVID-19. At the end of March ‘One Body, One World’, a new solo exhibition was due to travel to Iceland to open in Akureyri as part of ASSW20, however the work remains in its shipping crate in my studio. As do the paintings in progress, pigments, oil, gloss and hundreds of brushes- all locked up until further notice: WASPS Artists in limbo.
For now I work in a temporary highland studio in my living room, integrating the full-four-season-circle of Arctic light and darkness experiences, which began in the winter of 2015 and which were completed in Longyearbyen and Ny Alesund, during Sunrise 2020.
April 2020: Frostbite still endures but the Arctic- k i s s e d -tissue is s l o w l y thawing.
A relief to the painter who needs her hands but also who regrets not more fully succumbing to the trance-like-state which could have encapsulated her forever: A focussed desire: A deep pull- to fully connect… But retracting somewhat, was essential, in order to holistically translate the Arctic reality with colours and brushes.
(A 2020 Arctic Sunrise Diary was written daily and will be published).
Painted Muslin Flag, Bamboo Pole, Sea Ice, Crystal Air, Mist, Human, Shadow, Arctic Sunrise.
Adventdalen, Longyearbyen, Svalbard. March 2020
ARCTIC SUNRISE 2020
Four new concertina Sketchbook paintings created which capture Sunrise in Ny Alesund and Longyearbyen.
Watercolour, White Ink, Prussian Pigment, 96% Scientific Ethanol
(Hot Water and Ethanol were used to prolong the liquid state of the paint in minus 20 / minus 30 degree C Arctic Air.)