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Modern in the Wild

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

Sunset with Japan in Middle Distance, Watercolour on Paper, 36 x 51cm, 2024

Emergence of Spring, Japan in Middle Distance, Watercolour on Paper, 36 x 51cm, 2024

Lichen + Birch, Watercolour on Paper, 51 x 36cm, 2024

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

Lichen + Birch with Blue Tiles, Oil on Paper, 2024

Lichen + Birch 2, Watercolour on Paper, 51 x 36cm, 2024

Birch Bark, watercolour on paper, 51 x 36 cm

Birch / Bjõrk, Watercolour on Paper, 51 x 36 cm, 2024

These paintings are a selection from a month spent in Northern Sweden in May 2024. My art work was a response to closely tuning in to nature, witnessing radical transformation from deep snow and ice of a harsh winter, through fresh growth. This series shows ancient lichens on birch trees braceing against brutal cold on the island called Japan just outside my studio window. I wasn't expecting to find Japan in remote Northern Sweden. The allure of the long sunsets kept me hooked to the window late at night. Sounds of migrating birds filled the silent snowscape. Reindeer pass on their annual migration from sea to mountain. Moose droppings and animal tracks show signs of life and rare ferns, insects and wildflowers gradually burst into life. I started observing closely through drawing, then made very watery watercolours, small oil paintings and monoprints reflecting my daily experience, increasingly from nature’s perspective as I tuned deeper into my surroundings. Close attention through drawing cross-fertilised with monoprints and painting. Fresh and spontaneous watercolour experiments used 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. The 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. Experiencing the rapid daily change from winter to summer, I was guided by insights generously shared local experts: 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 art work creatively explores the juxtaposition of modernist legacies with nature, on the so-called “wilderness way”.

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