Initially, this blog was set up to document the residency in Siglufjordur. Writing it has helped to crystallise and clarify my thoughts about the whole Cold Spell period and many people have urged me to continue….and so I will.
A question I’m often asked is ‘how do you know when a painting is finished?’ Thinking about this I’d have to say ‘when it most closely resembles what you have in your mind’ or ‘ when the visual problems are resolved’. Just as often though it’s more of a feeling and yes, that’s something you can’t quite put your finger on.
Instead of trying to dissect it further here is the journey of a painting called ‘Fold’ from beginnings to end. Each stage of its timeline had something to recommend it but somehow it wasn’t ‘finished’. Now it is.
1. More colour depth needed.
2. More snow needed. Water needs definition of some sort.
3. Water line too harsh.
4. Rising cold mist and icy greens added to water. Mountain lines defined.
5. Fold ( 100cm x 100cm) oil on canvas
The first definition of ‘home’ in the dictionary says ‘The place where one lives’ which though accurate doesn’t quite tell the whole story.
Landing at Glasgow ten days ago with a big grin on my face at the idea of being home started me thinking about what ‘home’ means to us. Do we have to leave to appreciate it fully? I love travelling especially to Iceland. It plays a large contributing role in my work as a visual artist but after five weeks away the pull of my homeland became almost painful. My homing elastic had reached its full extent of stretch. The strength of these feelings came as a complete surprise.
Shadow of plane landing at Glasgow
The other surprise was seeing lambs in the fields, greening grass and other evidence of Spring in full flow. It seemed too warm for my cranked up sub-Arctic circulation. My personal thermostat has been turned down now as part of re-acclimatising.
Days are being spent in the studio working on the large paintings stored in my imagination while the memories of the residency are fresh. It’s not just about the visuals but about remembering temperature, smells, the wind speed. All of these facets find their way into the paintings and all of the days spent ‘learning mountain’ are proving their worth now.
Mountain painting in progress
Snow was forecast for Easter weekend and as the quantity of snowfall in the mountains is always unpredictable, it made sense to head south to Reykjavik before returning to Scotland at the beginning of April. The eight hour bus journey provided a slow and gentle release from the mountainous world I’d been inhabiting. The land was slowly waking up from frozen winter. Ice on the rivers was melting or stacking up in haphazard blocks and sheets. Overnight snow dusted the rocks.
I was reacclimatising yet the mountains are in my dreams.
Reykjavik is a small but to me perfectly formed city. There are many good exhibitions to be seen and good coffees to be drunk. Colours are different too, nature is more manicured here yet untamed landscapes are very visible from the city. Interesting sights are around every corner. The two photos below are tonally similar but worlds apart materially. Both have their own beauty.
The review of research is an important part of the creative process (speaking personally) and now that moment is here. Given the right conditions ideas start to ferment, distill and other brewing metaphors and like brewing this needs space, quiet, warmth and plenty of pure water. Siglufjordur has given me all this. Takk fyrir.
As Spring arrives the changing patterns on the mountains are like great beasts shedding their winter coats as the two mountain photos show, one taken on 4th March and the other on 21st, the time of the Equinox. All the while the light is increasing each day.
Like Scotland however I’m sure the northern winter will have a few final words before settling down for a good sleep.
Snow shapes which change daily. Drawing from sketchbook.
Spring has arrived in the north with the first arrival of Oystercatchers and now of the Swans, always a good sight against the icy mountains.
Snow has been disappearing off the slopes and roads near the town and the sound of running water is everywhere like a soundtrack. One of the advantages of all this melting is the uncovering of objects long since buried, natural and unnatural.
Everything found so far reminds me of the patterns on the surrounding mountains from the markings on a piece of building material to a discarded police label, it’s cobalt blue ink seeping and catching my eye.
Work is responding to this idea of macrocosm/microcosm and has focussed in on close-ups of scree and rocky outcrops. Several large pieces of work are waiting to be born………..
Usually I’d say my interests lie in the more watery elements of visual arts and it has come as a surprise to feel my attention focussing on the mountains as opposed to the fjord itself. As the imagination baulks at trying to comprehend the tonnage and mass involved I concentrate on their icy whiteness instead! This calls for a new visual vocabulary so I have been Learning Mountain by drawing them at all times of the day and in different weather conditions.
Who knows where this will lead…and in a nutshell that is why residencies are important. They offer the time and space to explore different directions with different materials – to dig a bit deeper or in a different place.
At the moment I’ve been using plain watercolour which I’ve not used for years and that too is a learning process. Here are some pages from my mini-sketchbook, the one I take out to play.
Essentially my colour palette is similar- just lots more white.
There was a weather warning issued yesterday for severe gales in the North-west. It was very accurate to say the least and people were warned not to travel.
In Iceland the wind speed is given in metres per second.
The designation for this storm was 20-28 m/s coming from the south west. According to the Icelandic Met Office there was a vigorous 968 mb low WSW of the Westfjords, moving north. I love the understatement of ‘vigorous’. The gusts could be felt battering the house and the sound was of the express train variety. Strangely I slept very well doubtless helped by Gudny (one of the residency committee) telling me the house had been there since 1913.
There is another storm due this afternoon/evening with violent gales in north west parts this evening. 25-30 m/s, 970mb low. Is there a difference between vigorous and violent when it comes to storms?
Its all a world away from calling storms ridiculous names like Abigail and Barney as if we were children being told a fairy story. It’s disrespectful to storms and patronising for humans- please, just give me the facts every time.