Elizabeth Philotera Bourne
After living most of my adult life in the Pacific Northwest, I was invited to photograph Greenland in 2017, and my life changed completely. I fell under the spell of the high arctic, and knew that this was where I had to live. In 2018 I had an artist residency in Svalbard, and a few months later at a time when most people my age are thinking about retirement and grandchildren, I packed seven suitcases, and moved to Longyearbyen, which is on the archipelago of Svalbard also known as Spitsbergen.
The high arctic is a land of extremes. It is stark, beautiful, and unforgiving. It is a place where you realize humanity is not the measure of all things. In a land where night lasts for three months, the first sunrise can bring you to year knees. After three months of unrelenting sun, the first true sunset can make you weep with joy. It is one of the last true wild places. If we lose the arctic, not only do we endanger humanity’s survival as well destroying innumerable other species, but I believe we lose our soul. In the Arctic, you know how small you are. As the human world becomes louder, brighter, and more dangerous, more than ever we need to remember that we are also part of nature, not separate or above it.
My work, both painting and photography, have been exhibited internationally. I am currently working on a three part series of paintings, The Arctic Sonata. The first work, Loss and Change, focused on drift ice as a metaphor for climate change, coronavirus, and my own personal losses and changes. It was exhibited in 2020 and has been shown in Scotland in 2021 and in 2023. The second work, Sanctuary, focused on glaciers as a metaphor for a sense of safety, balance, and the space where one can become reacquainted with one’s true self. The third work, Transformation, considers icebergs as a metaphor for the changes wrought by global climate change, and of the inevitable final transformation of age and death that must come to us.
I believe that art must speak a deeper truth than mere representation. My own work, while incorporating depiction, also engages with a strong heart-felt reaction. For me, the artist must have a passion for their subject and a core need to communicate that emotion to the viewer. My hope is that my work, both photographs and paintings, can inspire people to love the beauty of the Arctic. We need the ice. We need the wild places on our increasingly crowded planet, not only for the creatures that live there but also for ourselves.