Beautiful, untamed, mysterious… The Arctic conjures up many emotions for those who have visited the region, and for those who have yet to experience the majesty of this frozen landscape, all of these descriptions hold true.
As an artist, the Arctic is a stunningly vivid landscape, a delicately balanced eco-system and the most fragile of environments, an environment that needs our help and our protection. It is both vulnerable and awe inspiringly powerful at the same time.
Working in the Arctic over the summer months I was able to experience and to try to capture the essence of the Arctic wilderness through my paintings. So with my rucksack packed with paint, brushes and paper, I trudged and slipped my way to the top of icy glaciers to capture the huge Cerulean skies that dwarfed the shining landscape below. I painted freshly calved cobalt blue icebergs at close quarters and reveled in the elemental force of an Arctic storm.
Day by day, I felt closer to the Arctic landscape; I felt I understood it a little better each time I painted. I was transfixed.
When discussing what it is like to live in the High Arctic through the harshest of long dark winters, my friend Mali confides, “You know, the people who live and work here want to be here, that’s why they stay… Back at home, everyone complains about the same things, but here…” Mali trails off as she catches sight of some seabirds, binoculars quickly brought into action, “Puffins and Fulmars,” I’m told.
And that’s it. That is the inexplicable draw of the Arctic for me — the feeling that we are all part of something, not separated from the natural environment as most of us feel from time to time as we lead our busy lives, but instead, the Arctic gives us a chance to slow down and to reconnect with what really matters.
I reconnect through Prussian blue, Burnt Umber and Cobalt, through brush and pencil, through observation and through trying to understand exactly what it is that the Arctic is telling me.
I started my Arctic painting adventure in the appropriately named Arctic Bay, Nunavut, a ramshackle cluster of homes, shops and businesses tumbling down towards the fjord like
a pack of badly stacked cards. My journal notes read: “It’s 6 degrees C so not really cold at all, I’m in jeans and a t-shirt despite the snow covered Screed Mountains surrounding the town. The screed slopes are olive, umber and blue grey and create a muted foil for the timber homes painted in ochre, sage, burnt orange and iron oxide red.” I set up my easel and start to paint as a moose munches grass nearby.
Soon I’m out at sea, heading north, searching for wildlife to paint, and boy, do I find some: Minke Whales, Arctic Terns, Bearded Seals, Puffins, Little Auks, an Arctic Skua, Arctic
Fox, Humpback Whales and the king of the Arctic and iconic symbol of the fight to preserve the frozen North, the Polar Bear. I cannot believe my luck and paint and draw incessantly.
Crossing Greenland, I try to capture the fjord mountainsides using Prussian blue, umber, purple and slate; against the often-pure white snow, the darks and lights create incredible abstract patterns. Add to this the impossibly clear pale blue greens of glaciers and icebergs and I find myself in an artistic visual heaven.
Ending my journey in Spitsbergen, I visit the research stations at Ny-Alesund. I feel a little like I have arrived on a Thunderbirds set, with low-slung 60s buildings sporting radar dishes and complicated masts, populated by climate scientists from 10 nations including British, Dutch and Chinese. I laugh when I spot a t-shirt in the gift shop with the slogan, “Please leave your gun at the door and take your shoes off”. This short, humorous quote really seems to sum up the ethos of the Arctic residents: hardy and no nonsense for sure, but fun, friendly and incredibly welcoming at the same time.
My Arctic painting adventure enthralled my senses and inspired my creativity like nowhere else, and I’ll be back for sure.
More work from Glyn Macey’s Arctic project, ‘Paintings from the Top of the World’ can be found at www.glynmacey.com.