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Modern in the Wild

Slow Sunset, Japan in middle distance, Watercolour on paper, 36 x 51 cm

Lichen on Birch on tiles, oil on paper, approx 51 x 36 cm
Birch Bark, watercolour on paper, 51 x 36 cm

Working for a month in Northern Sweden, which is Sápmi, I closely tuned in to nature and its annual cycle. A daily transformation took place from deep snow and ice from a harsh winter, to fresh growth and endless sunshine. Moose droppings and animal tracks in deep snow, sounds of migrating birds fill the silence, reindeer pass on their annual migration from sea to mountain, rare ferns, insects and wildflowers burst into life. Ancient lichens on birch trees brace against brutal cold.

 

Watercolours, small oil paintings, monoprints and drawings were made increasingly from nature’s perspective as I tuned into my surroundings. Complete immersion led me to paint close to the earth. Close attention through drawing cross-fertilised with monoprints and painting. Fresh and spontaneous watercolour was more practical than oil as the journey there required 2 flights and 3 buses. I experimented using moss, lichen and twigs as tools.

 

I was in residence at Ricklundgården, a modern white Italianate villa completed in 1946, on a prominent hill overlooking lakes and mountains. Bernard Nordh’s best-selling novel In the shadow of Marsfjället 1937 made the area fashionable for its “wild, unspoilt” qualities. Artist Folke Ricklund fell in love with the area, and with local hotelier Emma Ricklund. Together they built Ricklundgården where they hosted visiting artists, who donated artworks which are now on permanent display in the house (a national monument similar to Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge). Modern paintings and sculpture are arranged alongside locally sourced Sámi duodji and other treasures collected by Emma on international trips, arranged in tableaux in a permanent installation.

 

Commanding the best view over mountains and water, never-ending sunsets and sunrises drew me to the studio window each night to watery, dreamy views. The island of Japan outside my window alluringly close, I felt compelled to walk there using snowshoes despite the risk of melting ice. I painted outdoors with sugar snow to wet my watercolour paper. Freezing conditions produced some brittle images. I made Birch and Lichen cohabitation paintings awash with water and Gansai Tambi Japanese paints lending their unique palette.

 

I was guided by the rapid daily change from winter to summer, and by insights generously shared local experts: a local historian and church caretaker, a member of the Fatmomakke Sámi Association, a deacon, a biologist, a fisherman, a shopkeeper and a plumber. Histories of exploitation versus coexistence inform my work - threatened Sámi culture, hydroelectric power, mining, the realities of living in a rural location with few jobs, the push or pull of city or emigration versus a tough existence, so familiar from my own family history.

 

As a residency artist, what can I offer those who generously share with me their nature, knowledge and expertise? My new work creatively explores the juxtaposition of modernist legacies with nature, the so-called “wild”.

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