Painting the Arctic in a different hue

ArtiCulture | Expeditionary artist, Maria Coryell-Martin, talks about the Imaging the Arctic project and her love for the North

Embracing the “expeditionary ethic” (Photo: Kristin Laidre)

Lesley Price

The Imaging the Arctic project is a collaboration between artist Maria Coryell-Martin and Kristin Laidre and is one of the most unique ventures that aims to communicate climate science through art.

The project currently features a collection of field art produced by Ms Coryell-Martin which has been facilitated by Ms Laidre’s Arctic research into narwhals and polar bears in Greenland.

The foundation of the project came from “our mutual desire to share the Arctic beyond the science” and brings to light environmental issues through non-traditional forms, Ms Moryell-Martin says.

“I believe art can be a really great hook for engaging people. The project is ultimately an opportunity to share an environment that is rapidly changing – to illustrate the impact of climate change on the Arctic region.”

Drawn to the Arctic
Ms Coryell-Martin’s initial interest in the Arctic came from her father, Professor Seelye Martin, an oceanographer who specialises in sea ice and who recently worked on the Nasa Bridge Project.

“I remember when I was young, he would be up in the Arctic on ice-breakers – he’s been a big inspiration to my interest in science and the region,” she says.

For many years Ms Coryell-Martin has worked around the Arctic and in the Antarctic. She met Ms Laidre in 2004 and has since been focusing on painting glacial regions.

In spring 2013, Mses Coryell-Martin and Laidre worked near the small Greenlandic settlements of Niaqornat and Kullorsuaq; Ms Coryell-Martin documented the area while Ms Laidre and her colleagues investigated the effects of sea-ice loss on narwhals and polar bears.

“As an artist collaborating with [Ms Laidre], it has given me the opportunity to witness as well as help illustrate a region that is fairly inaccessible,” Ms Coryell-Martin says. She explains that a typical work day can be highly unpredictable.

“If conditions were promising for the helicopter to fly out over the ice and look for narwhals, we’d prepare for flight – some days were in limbo, waiting for a foggy morning to clear or the wind to die down, and sometimes it was apparent that we were grounded for the day,” she says.

Ms Coryell-Martin sketches with ink and watercolour, and collects recordings “to build her palette of place, a record of experience and climate”.

“While in the field, I focus on creating and collecting as much field materials as possible – my goal is to complete between three and five field sketches a day and I also take photographs and make audio recordings,” she says.

Working out on the sea ice out in the unforgiving temperatures requires plenty of preparation. Ms Coryell-Martin explains that paints, for example, must be mixed with vodka to lower their freezing point.

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However, temporarily living amongst local communities is not without its charms, she says, describing the Greenlandic region as rich with “wonderful traditions”.

“One thrill I had was painting a narwhal tusk that a hunter loaned me – he’d just harvested the animal and the tusk was seven feet long. The next day he brought me an Atlantic cod to paint – and then eat for dinner.”

Ms Coryell-Martin explains that working with Ms Laidre has led her to appreciate the incredible effort and investment that goes into collecting scientific data, especially when it comes to elusive Arctic animals like narwhals and polar bears.

“I appreciate that her science can bring deeper meaning to my art, where my sketches and paintings can go beyond just being environmental portraits or images – to having more of a scientific context.”

Broadening the scope
The duo are currently working on putting together an exhibition and are also planning on making some new partnerships as well as new presentations and workshops.

In January 2014, ‘Imaging the Arctic’ will be collaborating with the Vanishing Ice project in Bellingham, Washington, an exhibition based on climate change in alpine and polar landscapes.

Ms Coryell-Martin plans to continue her work in the region and hopes Imaging the Arctic will flourish beyond a web based project.

“It’s such a compelling yet vulnerable region, and as an artist I feel it’s important to continue to share these stories,” she says.

Originally published by The Arctic Journal. Re-published here with the permission of the author.

The Rasmussen’s ArctiCulture articles offer a closer look at the arts and culture of the region.

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