Icelandic Journals: Letters from Iceland

I found myself in Iceland during the summer of 1991.  The Fulbright Foundation funded three months of travel to study the unique landscape of fire and ice.  Fulbright scholars are charged with the task of sharing their work to create a bridge between cultures. I returned the following summer to exhibit the work that evolved from those experiences.

The first summer and following three years brought about dramatic changes in how I approached landscape painting. After spending months hiking on lava fields, glaciers, and moraines, traditional painting seemed ineffective. Hundreds of sketches and paintings failed to convey the raw urgency of the Nordic landscape.  Traditional painting failed to convey the sense of space that could only be described as infinitely vast.  Traditional painting could not convey how opposing forces of glaciers and volcanoes both created and shaped that small island.  And how could I convey the power of perpetual wind orchestrating it all from the sky?  I had to trust memory, feelings, and experiences and put away the photographs and sketches.  My work went through several permutations of canvas collages, stones, wire, prints, and encaustics. The resulting pieces were raw, rough, process oriented pieces that were better suited to convey the idea of Icelandic landscape.

What is different in the "Journals" series is the use of text from notebooks.  Much of my time in Iceland was spent a tent waiting for storms to pass or in bus terminals waiting for rides. Several journals were filled and they became a valuable resource for collages both literally and conceptually.  During second and third summers in Iceland, the painting, notebooks, and camera were left behind.  It was time to stop trying to “capture” landscapes and just experience it.

The Icelandic Journals series is as much about process of seeing and creating as it is about landscape. These collages reflect the same raw state of Iceland through layered construction. But they also reflect acts of turbulent acts of creation contrasted with stillness. The strongest memories still reside with the roar of persistent winds, squawking arctic terns, rumble of falling icebergs, and thunder of rushing streams. Yet it is the inward quiet instilled by those endless vistas and sounds that persisted to become the 130 collages of Icelandic Journals: Letters from Iceland.


Making it art

My role as an artist is to mediate what is seen with what is felt -- the objective versus the subjective. Working on location is essential.  It is through direct encounters with nature that I can best convey the energy and beauty revealed through shifting light. It becomes a race to respond to the changing colors and forms. Where the challenges are temporal when working on location, the studio presents more intellectual hurdles. It is difficult, if not impossible to maintain the same energy and impulse that first sparked an idea. Forcing the idea can lead to dead ends and stale art.

The concept of “beauty” in art can be a hindrance, particularly in landscape art.  The subject is also rife with clichés difficult to avoid.  While there are differences between the aesthetics of beauty and that of purely decorative art, these concepts can successfully be merged. Occasionally the art  becomes both beautiful and decorative, but hopefully not cliche.  When a painting or collage is “working”, I find it is best to simply work intuitively and that’s when the art is at its best. The art will guide the artist.