Capturing the extremes of nature at the edge of the world

Published on 1 August 2020

In 2015, Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design tutor and alumna, Georgia Rose Murray, started a series of expeditions to some of the world’s coldest, most remote places

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Georgia first ventured North in 2015. “I wanted to experience Polar Night, which is 24-hour darkness,” explained Georgia. She would become the very first artist in resident in Pingeyri, a small village on the edge of the North-Western Fjords of Iceland. She would spend a month there, absorbing the landscape amid deep darkness. “It was amazing to witness the subtly changing colours in the sky. There was a lot of light in the air, even though the sun was below the horizon, and shadow still existed. Out in the field I made lots of drawings and paintings, translating the magic into sketchbooks and onto larger pieces of paper.” she said. This experience led to Georgia developing a new solo exhibition called ‘-Light+Shadow’, which opened at Patriothall Gallery in Edinburgh in 2015.

a misty image of land

Following the exhibition, Georgia began to feel depleted of light. She decided she wanted to counteract the darkness by experiencing the opposite extreme: 24-hour sunlight. Her next expedition was to the Czech Centre for Polar Ecology, which is based between Longyearbyen and Petuniabukta on Svalbard in 2017. Svalbard is a group of islands between Norway and the North Pole. Again, Georgia was the first artist in residence at one of the most Northern research stations in the world. 

“During the project I was lucky to spend time with Polar scientists, learning about the landscape, geology, biology and flora and fauna which we were surrounded by. Learning about the changes glaciers are facing because of climate change was crucial to the research I have made ever since,” said Georgia. After returning to Scotland Georgia worked in her studio to create ‘Arctic North 1+1-1=1’, a new exhibition which travelled across the sea and opened in Knupp Gallery, Prague, alongside Arctic Science Summit Week 2017, the largest Climate Change Conference in Europe.

a person holding a flag in the snow

Still wanting to experience even more of the area, Georgia applied to be part of The Arctic circle, a residency for artists, scientists, musicians and writers. “At that time I was working in China at Sichuan Fine Arts Institute, ”said Georgia “So I had to journey directly from a city of 18 million people – to the arctic, where there are more polar bears than people. It was like landing on another planet.” She set sail in autumn 2018 with 27 other artists.

They would spend 15 days and nights on the ship and made contact with the land once or twice a day. “We were incredibly well looked after by a brilliant crew and the ship was luxurious,” said Georgia. “The experience was very different to staying with the scientists in the Czech station in Petuniabukta. Whilst in that remote bay, I had my own little cabin, a sleeping bag and I had to light a fire to keep warm at night. I had to carry a rifle with me and be constantly on Polar Bear look out. On the Arctic Circle Residency, we had expert guides, whose primary roles were to keep us safe and to consciously conserve the precious landscape. Because of that it was wonderful to feel free to fully transcend into the sacred environment- I was constantly drawing, painting, filming and absorbing.”

a person in the snow

Being in that extreme cold landscape taught Georgia how to be adaptable. “You have to work quickly, or your paint brushes and water will turn to blocks of ice,” she said. “You have to be ready to get up and go whenever the weather changes,or a glacier calves and sends tidal waves to the shore.”

Georgia has witnessed climate change first-hand.

“Revisiting glaciers and seeing how much they have melted in just a couple of years is extremely poignant. Our behaviour around the world is changing this incredibly beautiful and fragile landscape. People who live up in Svalbard are even talking about how bizarrely warm it is now”

Georgia Rose Murray

Georgia returned to Scotland at the end of March 2020, after an expedition specifically to witness Arctic sunrise. Again, she was invited to be a guest researcher at the Czech station and also to be Artist in Residence in Ny-Alesund; a settlement on the edge of KongsFjorden where there are 11 research stations operated by different countries from around the world.

“I arrived on the 17 February when there were amazing colours in the sky,” she said. “For the following two weeks the arc of the sun remained below the mountains until the end of March, when real sunbeams erupted into the landscape for a total of three minutes. Each day the sun quickly rose higher in the sky, illuminating the landscape with colours I have never seen before.”

paintings of mountains
“The sublimely beautiful landscape and light provided the most challenging and rewarding painting circumstances I have ever experienced”

Georgia Rose Murray

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