Painting big ice
Just after I turned 40, my husband took a sabbatical from work and I took him and my children for the first and only long trip to my Grandmother and Mother’s home country of Norway. Now as any Norway-lover will tell you, this place is Narnia (right?). I certainly understood it to be so, as I grew up in the 60s and 70s, both reading the Narnia books and visiting this beautiful and fairly empty country at regular intervals. Oddly, C. S Lewis himself based Narnia on the Mourne mountains of Northern Ireland. If you look at some Google images of this place, it is pretty close. I have decided that these hills, and the Scottish Highlands, are all part of Norway. Pauline Diana Baynes was a great illustrator but her mountains are pointy, like Alps. The Norwegian ones had enormous Ice Age glaciers roll over them and are made of Granite. So much of my childhood is gone they way of everyone else’s. All my mother’s favourite aunts and uncles were no longer with us and I did not feel as at home as I had hoped to. A number of years after the return from this trip, I decided to reconnect with my inner Norwegian by learning to knit in the round, with strange purl stitches and all. I still do this and use loud colours to do so. On the other hand, the weather was glorious throughout this summer of 2002, and swimming in the fabulous Sognefjord, off a clean and round expanse of rock, with blue sky above the mountains and (crucially) no red jellyfish, was not something I shall ever forget.
Anyway, we went to see a popular glacier up close and it was spectacular, as you can imagine. But again, not quite, if you visit in a hot and gorgeous August with two small children and not enough film in the camera. Dear oh dear. So once I got back, I pillaged my father’s photos of a previous trip. The photos are all of Nigardsbreen (Nine Farms Glacier, to mark the number of farms ground under this ice sheet’s rocks – they all carry rocks). The Big Norwegian Encyclopedia spells this name with a single ‘a’, not a ‘å’, don’t ask me.
I then spent months working on sketches, collages, ink daubs and so on. These became trial runs of paintings in pastel (or conte, I can’t remember) and eventually, the largest four oil paintings I ever completed. Or shall ever complete, I am all acrylic now, I do not enjoy waiting and I hate solvents. I had such a lovely few months, covering the 130 x 105cm canvasses with huge amounts of blue and white paint, with accents of brown for rock debris and red or purple for shadows, or even just for fun.
I don’t know when I started on this work but the initial sketches are in a book dated 2005, so a good 3 years later. I am sharing them now because I still love the paintings, which formed the centrepiece of my only solo appearance in the Cambridge Open Studios, presumably in the summer of 2005. The Crevasse painting, which appears at the top of this post, is one of my favourites of all time. I do love detail but it is the nearly pure abstract of this image which I fall into every time I see it.