Pivotal Event #13 (b) Iceland


I had heard about artist residencies in Iceland soon after I became a full-time artist. It was an enticing dream, but it was a dream I wasn’t sure how to realize. Each year when the call went out from my coveted institution, I would begin to tackle the application form. And each year I would get a little more of it done. But ultimately I would decide that I wasn’t ready–I didn’t yet have enough experience, or I didn’t have a big enough “presence” on the art scene, or probably the committee wanted someone different than me, someone more well-known. So each year I put away the application form and went back to work on improving my skills.

Finally in late 2015 I got all the way through the application. Did I now maybe have enough skill, experience, and presence? My hand poised above the “Send” button on my computer for a long time. Did I dare submit? Would I be able to face being turned down for my dream residency? I nervously hit “Send” and then worried whether I should have waited for another year, or two, or three. Happily, many weeks later I heard back from the committee. I was going to Iceland!

My month on the north coast of Iceland was pivotal for me for because it was the realization of a dream. It also provided me with an understanding of what steps to take to make a dream come true. It was a pivotal experience in another way as well, because the physical location so completely filled my senses and my colleagues (four others from around the world) were so very marvellous and fun and interesting to work with. I even got to travel by (small) ferry boat over (very) rough seas to cross into the (cold and windy) Arctic Circle and view my first (completely adorable) Atlantic puffin. Yes!

I had a rather wonderful, heart-opening surprise waiting for me to discover in Iceland. In the months before my residency, I had started to paint floating mountain forms (the best way I can describe the shapes). I wasn’t really thinking what those shapes were as I painted–they were just the shapes that felt right when I painted them. On one of my day-trips in Iceland, I travelled through a tunnel in the mountains between one valley and the next. I looked across a fjord that was covered in clouds. Peaking above the clouds were mountain peaks. I knew those peaks! They were what I had been painting months earlier. What a sight. It was a personally deeply meaningful moment for me, like a call and answer, a validation of my painting process and the importance of following my creativity even if I didn’t know for sure why I was making what I was making.

Before my residency I had very clear boundaries around what kind of artist I was–I was an abstract painter working with acrylics on wood panels and occasionally on canvas and paper. And for some reason (I don’t really know why) I had limited myself to being only that and had closed the doors to other possibilities. But in Iceland those doors swung wide open to the manifestations of other types of creating. I worked in audio and video. My camera came back into the forefront and I even showed some of my photographs at our group show, thanks to the encouragement of photographers who were in residence, and who generously shared their precious stock of photo paper. I explored three-dimensional installations, painting outside, and leaving my paintings out in the rain to soak in more of the Iceland environment.

There is a layer of experience in my residency that went so deep I am continuing to discover its affect on me. I haven’t really shown the work I did in Iceland and I still have projects coming from that time. Some of those projects may end up as a print series because the originals feel so personal to me. I just want a little more time living with them before I let them go.

Photo: We had just left a dark mountain tunnel and popped into the next fjord. Here are the floating mountains I was talking about. This photo, and the memory of that day, still takes my breath away and makes my heart race.

Iceland Floating Mountains

Photo: I painted this scene in March 2016 and I went to Iceland in June of that year.

North Shore painting
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