Graduate and Scottish landscape painter Georgia Rose Murray on how her most recent research trip to the Arctic is the natural evolution of her artistic fascination with northern landscapes.
Summer 2016 was an enlightening experience in more ways than one for painting lecturer and Edinburgh College of Art graduate Georgia Rose Murray. Supported by the Scottish International Education Trust, Georgia experienced a truly unique landscape that was constantly illuminated by her scientific companions and an Arctic sun that didn’t set for the duration of her 3-week visit.
A guest of the Czech Center for Polar Ecology, Georgia stayed in two different Svalbard locations; the base station in Longyearbyen (the capital of Svalbard) and Nostoc Field Station, approximately 60km further north in a remote bay surrounded by mountains.
As the first artist to use the station for painting rather than scientific research, Georgia's presence was an intriguing change to the team dynamic. Working alongside those researching the biology, geology and ecology of the Arctic region, she added a new dimension to life at the station.
Despite the unfamiliarity of her role, she was supported and encouraged by Josef Elster, the station’s director, whose enthusiasm for the project meant that she was quickly embedded into the life and activities of the station.
Consequently, after spending long days in the field, the knowledge of her new scientific colleagues began to seep into Georgia’s understanding of her environment and, in doing so, influenced and helped shape her artistic response to the landscape.
I acquired an awareness of universal cycles which are much larger than our human existence on planet Earth however whilst we are here we do have a responsibility to protect and to try to maintain the ecosystems which have become damaged due to human activity.
The art of remembering
Now back in Scotland, Georgia is gathering together her research and starting to create new paintings based on her notes, recollections and sketches. The daily blog that she maintained throughout the trip is another source of inspiration as she revisits memories and experiences and tries to capture everything that happened in words and images.
This work will be exhibited for the first time in Spring 2017 at the Arctic Science Summit Week in Prague before touring the UK.
At almost 79 degrees north the location of Petuniabukta is humbling. Mirror like Billafjorden, the surrounding snow scattered peaks and the rushing sky comprise the most incredible space. The constantly circling sun illuminates the bay 24 hours a day creating ever evolving shafts of bright colour and deep shadows from every angle. Always aware of the power of nature, in a place where there are more polar bears than people, I experienced consistent feelings of awe, fear, elation and complete liberation.
Work art balance
Georgia graduated with an MFA from Edinburgh College of Art in 2013. It was, in her words,
an intense learning period with a demanding practical and theoretical workload. As well as enabling Georgia to thrive creatively, the course provided her with opportunities to develop the practical skills necessary for lecturing and teaching, including running group critical review sessions and individual tutorials with undergraduate painting students.
It is this experience that has allowed Georgia to develop a post-university career that balances art with regular employment. Georgia splits her time between her WASPS (Workshops Artists Studio Provision Scotland) studio in Stockbridge and Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design in Dundee where she lectures.
As for the future, northern landscapes creatively inspire Georgia Rose Murray. As well as the recent research trip to the Arctic, she has spent time in Iceland and Handa Island in Scotland on artistic residencies. It is hard to imagine her heading south.
The experiences I am having in northern locations are all contributing to a foreseeably ongoing body of research, which is largely about creating space to exist in incredible landscapes and connect to forces beyond what we can see.