The Land of Fire and Ice: Iceland Collection 2019
An essay on the Creative, Physical and Ethical Practices of working in Iceland.
Earth, Fire, and Ice forge together to bring the mighty country of Iceland into our world. To work with such a historic place alongside a very present spiritual energy was an incredible experience for me. Plus the ever-changing landscape was an infinite source of inspiration for the birth of new work. Iceland brought me back to a place that I longed to be in, a place to pick up stones, run through fields, and be alone. Solitude in nature and a sense of feeling unified with the earth was a feeling I had been yearning for since moving into the city. The pull towards this lunar landscape took hold of me from the beginning of the trip and has been lingering in my soul since. On arrival, the emotional landscape is an immediate shock to the system and 'The Land of Fire and Ice' can be felt within the first steps on the Island. Diverse and beautiful, this unique other world inspired a brand new collection of paintings, drawings, and sculptures made in Iceland.
The Iceland Collection can be split into two series - Painting & Drawings, and Sculptures. The paintings & drawings works were predominantly Plein-air and quick sketches. Plein-air painting for those who are not familiar is a painting technique that means "in the open air." These pieces are outdoor paintings, and the essential goal is to capture the feeling and essence of the landscape versus trying to capture all the tiny details of the work. Impressionist painting has always been one of my favorites styles to work in, simply because I feel more in tune with the colors and energy of the land rather than being trapped inside my head. There is a physical and internal dialogue that comes along with walking miles alone in a field, trekking through rocky beaches and climbing massive mountains that can definitely be a part of the struggle of working in harsh conditions. On top of the physical strain, there is a creative pulse that is always there. Wondering if I found the best spot to paint, looking up at the sky praying it won't rain, and then finally deciding to work. One of the main questions I received from the trip was "is it cold?" Simple answer - yes. But also, when you're surrounded by the most beautiful glaciers and textured mountains, you quickly forget how cold you are. I will honestly say painting outdoors hit me pretty hard only when the temperatures dropped suddenly and unexpectedly. Thankfully I was never rained on - but the quick shifts of temperature quickly broke my focus. Especially painting by the Icebergs and on the Black Sand Beaches at 9pm. But with two pairs of layered gloves and lots of patience I was able to get a total of 7 paintings accomplished and three drawings during the exploration. Creating art in extreme landscapes has been something I've always wanted to explore in my creative practice, and Iceland was a great introduction to that story for me.
The other half of the collection is focused on a whole new body of sculptural work. This series began in Iceland and completed in my studio in Dallas. From two polar opposite universes, the city and the wilderness, I created a very personal collection of sculptures. The work began while exploring the Southern Coast of Iceland, where I collected stones, foliage, and sand from the land. * Please note the segment below about the ethics of foraging in a new landscape. The rocks were collected from unique locations, selected from thousands and thousands of stones. From the black basalt caves of Reynisfjara to the cliffs of Jökusárlón - each stone has a unique story and spirit about them, a story that can be read just by examining each one. The foliage I found and collected was also an essential element to these sculptures. Twigs, leaves, and even branches were far and few between. There is a small number of trees growing on the Island and all the trees that have been planted were planted by settlers or those currently living there. To even come across a leaf on the ground was really special, for instance - I only found two the entire time. Small little details that could be glossed over and unseen were picked up and collected and used for these sculptures. A few unique pieces to be noted were the black dried coral, broken branches, and sponge from the ocean (washed up on the shore). When returning back to the studio, the construction of the sculptures began. The structure of these pieces was heavily influenced by Japanese Zen Gardens and Chinese Crystal Gazing Balls. Asia and Iceland may seem like a strange combination, but both landscapes bring me a sense of spirit that is incorporated into the land. The ruggedness of the stones are complimented with the zen compositions that often found in Asian art. Then these unique stones are stacked on top of each other to bring focus to the old tradition of Iceland stone stacking. These stone stacks are called Cairns and are meant to signal a safe passage through the land for travelers. A polished sphere of stone balanced on top of the structure to signify the soul traveling through the area. Capturing the same feeling as standing on top of the peak of a cliff or touching an iceberg right in front of you. The final sculptures are meant to represent that same emotion. A visual representation of a moment you felt unified with nature, a symbol of safe passage through life, and act as a reminder of the earth beneath your feet. These structures are meant to facilitate a personal and intimate emotion for the viewer as well, developing their own story with the piece. Lastly, a small amount of black sand from Vík beach is added to solidify the piece and pay homage to its original environment.
Ethics and Advice on Foraging and Stone Stacking
While the activity of foraging and stone stacking grows in popularity and are the centerpieces of my newest collection, I feel that I should note a few points on the ethics of the practice. Starting with stone stacking. While it may be a beautiful picture for your social media, please advise that not every country or environment appreciates the tradition. Iceland, in particular, has raised awareness of the dangers of stone stacking in their country via tourism. In the 9th century, the Viking settlers created these cairn (stone stacking) landmarks and were a symbol of the history of Iceland. With visitors building their own cairns, this activity is slowly destroying the landscape of Iceland. Visitors are asked to dismantle their stone structures after making them and to never rip stones that are part of the earth. If you do choose to take part please only use lose stones or stones that are not physically attached to the ground as they are a vital aspect to the eco-system. Each piece I brought back was never pulled from the ground or ripped from the natural environment, always lose stones. There were MANY beautiful pieces I left behind because I knew I felt that the energy around them told me to put them back. There is an intuitive nature to this practice that also demands respect - If you do not respect the land, it will bite you back. Also, please note what is illegal to forage in each country, for example, it is unlawful to take Stalactites (large sharp mineral formations) found inside caves in Iceland. With foraging, please be mindful that I only collected dead or dried items that are not attached to the ground. Never forage in an area too much as it can damage the eco-system of land and can take many years for the earth to heal from over foraging. Iceland, in particular, has vast moss fields that wrap around the mountains, please make a note to always look for a trail to hike as walking on the moss can actually hurt it. When trekking alone through the cliffs there were moments I had to walk across the moss and rocks to access a trail, but PLEASE always stick the visible path to pay respect to the land. Also, it's important to note that it is illegal to off-road drive through the moss as well and you can get ticketed. If you plan on painting or working in nature, be prepared, tarps, extra water bottle to put dirty paint, and separate bags for trash. Never leave any garbage, and I highly recommend that you pick up any waste, cigarets, or plastic that you find and throw them away. I had a separate trash bag in my car for all the trash I found while traveling through Iceland. I collected soda bottles, empty firework containers, and bottle caps. These items do NOT belong with the beautiful mountains and please take the great initiative to depose of them properly. If you're in a public area as well, I can promise you, the act of picking up the garbage you find will inspire others around you to the same. If you're going to work with the land, you need to leave it better than you found it - No footprints and no marks. Even if it's freezing or raining weather, please always pick up your trash regardless of the situation.