I don’t think there is any greater gift for an artist than the gift of time. So when Kij suggested we do a residency together rather than our usual Iceland trip I was enthusiastic. I immediately thought of three, no four, no five things I wanted to accomplish. In addition to the usual long walks, soaks in hot pots, and rambling back roads in the car, of course.
The most important thing was to paint. I hadn’t picked up a brush since 1 October when I signed the first contract for the Spitsbergen Artists Residency. I knew that could happen, and I have no regrets. But I am most contented when I am steadily painting. Doing that work maintains my equilibrium. Nothing else holds me together in the same way.
So painting first.
For me painting is meditation. I play music to keep my mind busy. Painting is a dance between artist and canvas, and it demands that the body move. Thinking too much gets in the way. Thinking is for after or before painting. Or so it is for me. Some days I worked alone in the space. Some days Kij worked there with me. She told me I sing when I’m painting. Sometimes I talk in whispery breaths. I’m unaware of doing this. I’m unaware of everything but the picture I’m working on on. You can stand in front of me and talk; I won’t see or hear you. This has been tested.
My goal was ten paintings. I completed twelve. I wanted to explore form and style choices. I wanted to learn the best way to apply metallic leaf. I wanted to think about what these paintings mean for me. All my work is deeply personal. For me these paintings are about the inevitability of entropy. We live, we change, we die. Every moment of this journey is as beautiful and precious as every other.
As for influences, the Group of Seven is always at my back. Lawren Harris and Tom Thomson in particular. Rockwell Kent, of course. Without his work in Greenland would I even be where I am? But for these paintings I went back to an older time to the mid Gothic period artists, in particular Simone Martini whose work I poured over in the early mornings before going back to second sleep. Eastern Orthodox icons inspired and educated me.
I am grateful to Alda and Jón (and little Kári, who would lie on my feet while I painted) for the Gullkistan residency and their good company. I am grateful to Brian for the insightful comments. No one understands my work better. To my colleagues at the residency, Ellen and William, for their support and tolerance as I raided their kitchen for things to draw circles with. I am grateful to Iceland for being it’s amazing, beautiful, generous self. And of course most of all, I am grateful for the time with Kij. The conversations, the laughter, the adventures.
And now I am back and it is time to take what I learned on these little works and start the larger work. From darkness to light.