South Iceland

And so began my last week in Iceland.

I’d booked a tour with a well known company to visit the southern areas of Iceland. It was extremely expensive but worth every cent. It was nice to meet new people and share some of my small knowledge about the country with them. The aurora was of particular interest to most. I like to explain to people that the aurora is like a cat: when visible, they’re amazing and you love them, but it’s always on their terms. Sometimes absent for long periods entirely, then they’ll scratch at the door to get in and a moment later, they’re demanding to be out again. Other times, they’re on your lap purring happily for hours. As with all things Icelandic, the aurora is capricious.

Our tour leader was a real character. It was like going on a road trip with Bill Murray, in both physical likeness and personality. He affectionately called us his ‘arseholes’ (in Icelandic). Oddly, no one seemed to mind.

We toured through the Golden Circle on Day One, visiting the tectonic plate meeting point between the Atlantic and Europe, Geyser and a few waterfalls, then headed to the south coast where we stopped at Seljalandsfoss, Gullfoss and Skógafoss, where the bus broke down. Luckily it was fixed and fine within an hour and a half and we simply enjoyed a nice meal at the restaurant in the interim. Back at the first hotel I endured the hot tub with a bunch of rowdy drunks and then caught another aurora display. They’ve been going nuts with the tear in the sun that happened about a week ago.

Day Two was the two Glacier Lagoons, the Black Diamond Beach and the Ice Cave. I’ve seen plenty of photos of all of these things and yet they still managed to outdo my expectations. Absolutely stunning all of it. It’s not obvious from my photos but some of those icebergs were five stories high and the ice really is that blue. Apparently, it’s caused by hundreds of years of compression. It’s pretty wonderful seeing the shapes they form and the lines of ancient volcanic ash running through them.

On Day Three we began the journey back to Reykjavic stopping first at a glacier on which we were to hike. It was fantastic. I was reminded of the old days when Sonya, Julian and I used to go rock climbing. I wanted to come back and do more. Being there and seeing the power of nature is awe inspiring. Once again, the photos just don’t give a sense of scale. After this, we visited the Black Beach and then stopped off at a little seaside town where we had a driver change. Those that opted for it stayed on to go aurora chasing. I stayed on to kill time before heading to the bus station for a transit to the airport. The aurora weren’t very strong that night, but I’m reasonably happy with my little churchyard photo. While waiting for the darkness, a few of us went into the bar directly behind the bus and I got chatting to locals. There was a male choir in town and they’d all just walked in after rehearsals for a quick dinner and drinks before the big performance. They sang all through their dinner. It sounded like a combination of soccer songs and poetic classics. Their voices were really lovely. That’s another thing about Iceland. They’re all musical and almost all of them can sing beautifully.

That night never ended for me. After all this, I was dropped off at the BSI terminal where I had a long wait before the first transit bus the the airport, followed by another long wait before my flight. Then a bus and train trip to Leeds from Manchester. 36 hours of travelling on next to no sleep wore me out.

And now I am no longer in Iceland.

I may post again of my travels, but the primary message was always just to describe my Icelandic adventure. If I don’t post again, thanks for reading and for your feedback. I’m glad I decided to produce this blog for you as it’s allowed me to reflect on the experience and it’ll be a useful tool when I head back into the Fremantle studio and start making serious work based on it all. Particular thanks must go to the team behind the NES Artist Residency and the people of Skagaströnd who initiated it. What a wonderful bunch of humans.

It’s been grand.

Takk fyrir and bless bless.

 

Snaefellsnes

I’ve been thinking a lot about climate change recently. It’s always in the back of my mind and I try to do my best to reduce my own contributions but lately it has moved to the forefront of my thinking. Recently a friend posted this on his facebook wall: http://en.newsner.com/man-points-camera-at-ice-then-captures-the-unimaginable-on-film/about/nature

Never in living memory has an Icelander experienced a winter so remarkably like a summer. I’m no native, but even I am profoundly aware of that this is far from normal. It was 14c in the Eastfjords a few days back. The average temperature in Skagaströnd for February has been about 6c. I’ve laid on the grass at the back of the studio a few times watching beautiful sunsets in jeans and shirt. No hat, no gloves, no scarf. I shouldn’t be able to see the grass, let alone be comfortable lying on it.

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Meanwhile, here’s a few odd things that I’ve discovered in the last few weeks that amuse me.

  1. I didn’t see a shadow for the entirety of January. Shadows simply ceased to exist.
  2. Mountains covered in snow can stand beside oceans. I first ‘discovered’ this as an anomaly when I visited South Korea two years ago, so it’s not entirely unfamiliar, but still notable when in your own reality, the two should be far apart.
  3. Waterfalls can fall into the ocean, not just continue as rivers. This had never occurred to me before! In Iceland, they do it all the time.
  4. When driving at night, I catch myself scanning the edges of the road, super focussed, only to realise nothing’s going to hop in front of my car. So I relax. Then I start scanning again. And again. And again. It’s just so ingrained.
  5. Related to the above. I’ve never seen any roadkill of any kind. Nor any birds feasting on said roadkill taking off as my car approaches.
  6. Iceland doesn’t have trees. Other artists from different parts of the world respond strongly to this. To me, after years living in the Pilbara and having driven across the Nullabor, it’s perfectly natural.
  7. When I speak my few words of Icelandic, I’ve discovered I have a northern accent.  The other day for the first time, I was spoken back to (twice!) in rapid Icelandic and had to apologetically explain that I don’t actually speak the language. Sitting in a hot tub in Olafsvik, a local then taught me how to say “I’m sorry, I don’t speak Icelandic.”  I must be getting a bit better at it. Doesn’t stop the Skagaströnd locals laughing at my attempts though.
  8. The time between sunrise and sunset increases by around 15-20 minutes per day. Plus twilight. At the time of writing this, we are now well over 9 hours of daytime. It was 3 when I arrived on January 2nd. I’m used to about a 2 minute variation and a twilight that’s like a light switch.
  9. If I had ADHD, I wouldn’t visit Iceland. It’s just too stimulating. Overwhelmingly so. As a fellow artist said last night, “It’s like visiting the Tate. You just get so overwhelmed, you have to leave without seeing it all.”
  10. Lot’s of parts of Iceland have their own micro climates. Driving back and forth through Olafsvik a few nights ago was like driving the Millenium Falcon in Hyperspace mode. 3km either side of the town was just normal night driving. No snow, rain, hail or anything. This happens all the time all over the country.

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The images in this week’s blog are all of Snaefellsnes. Ask me how to pronounce it when I get home. We got lucky here with snow on the second day. On arriving, we enjoyed seeing the brilliant green mosses that grow all over the lava fields, waking the next to find the green transformed to white. Brilliant sunshine was followed up with rainbows and snow showers. There’s much I could say about Snaefellsnes but to be honest, it gets hard to put into words.

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This is my last full week in Skagaströnd. I must leave by Tuesday 28th at the latest. It’s crept up mighty fast.  I was invited stay on and work at the local restaurant, using the upstairs space as a private art studio. After 10 days agonising over it, I’ve decided not to take the opportunity. Although I know it’s the right decision, I can’t help feeling teary eyed about it. I’ve made some great friends here and leaving them behind is going to be bittersweet.

The Westfjords

This trip was actually done mid January, on the same weekend as Myvatn. At the time, there was a lot of snow around, which there is not now. We had intended to head up to Isafjördor but the roads were closed due to heavy snow and inclement weather. That happens all the time in the Westfjords. One must be flexible and change plans constantly by checking the road condition reports online. Here is the site in case you’re curious: Westfjords road conditions. The experience of change was profound here. The video below shows a particularly beautiful (though somewhat treacherous) portion of highway 68. Every time we circuited a fjord, the light and weather changed dramatically. Video credit Westfjords Wind: Alyson Jackson.

We detoured on the return journey to see Kolugljufur, a fabulous waterfall not on the maps about an hour out of Skagaströnd. It reminded me of Hancock Gorge in Karajini but white instead of red. Really stunning!

Drangsnes was where I saw my first aurora. As you can see by the photo, it’s not that exciting and was barely visible to the naked eye. The best thing about Drangsnes is it’s hot pot. Free to visit, it sits right on the beach. We visited around 9-11pm and had it to ourselves. There’s three tubs to choose from of varying temperatures and it was lovely to sit there and watch the waves crashing in.

Meanwhile, I’ve just completed my second Wednesday mentoring some students from the local school. They’re so lucky, getting to work with artists from around the world producing all sorts of interesting projects each week. They’ve been invited to join in exhibiting at this month’s Opið Hús with the work produced with myself and Aly who mentored them in the weeks before me.

Everyone in town is excited at the moment about the changes happening at the local supermarket. It’s closed today as they do the final preparation before re-opening tomorrow re-branded. Small town stuff!

 

 

Skagaströnd musings

 

 

Recently we had a day so full of glorious sunshine and gently rolling surf that I experienced a strange sense of cognitive dissonance. The sea beckoned invitingly, and my desire to dip into it was very strong. Yet, like Caravaggio’s Bacchus, it’s invitation comes at a cost. To have done so would have resulted in the instant pain of frostbite. And yet, I continually felt the desire to dive into the waves and enjoy the bliss of a sunny afternoon at the beach. In contrast with Perth’s immutably blue skies, I can’t help but be spellbound at how Iceland’s weather, light and views are capricious and compelling in equal measure in rapid transitory bursts.

Living so tuned to the environment in such a remote place far from everywhere is proportionately inverse to the storm clouds gathering across the globe in response to Trump’s first week in office. As I fully expected, he’s delivering on all his promises, not offering ‘truth’ but ‘intent’. I feel cocooned here and I’m grateful for it, though it directly impinges on my serenity in communications with Iranian and American friends already effected by his madness.

 

The North

 

Living in such a tiny fishing village with few amenities, passing through Akuyreri the “Capital of the North” was exciting. Amazing for a population of only 18,000, they have more commercial art galleries than Perth. All their traffic lights have red hearts instead of the usual circles. Getting there was quite icy but not too bad when equipped with a 4wd and winter tyres.

Between Akyreri and Mývatn is the famous Goðafoss waterfall. It is stunningly beautiful. Still getting the hang of my new camera at the time we went, my shots don’t do it full justice.

Mývatn itself is famous for it’s geothermal natural baths, it’s mountain crater, the freakish lava deposits that stand everywhere around the lake and Hevrir or “bubbly place” as Alyson calls it. Our timing was fantastic as the whole area was covered in beautiful snow and the light was constantly transforming throughout the day, ending with perfect clear moonlit skies at night. The baths were wonderful, very warm and great for the skin and tight muscles. We were in hysterics about the icicles that formed in our hair due to the -18c outside temperature. Few tourists venture beyond the south coast and the “Golden Circle” so we shared this pleasure only with a lovely old couple from Akyreri. Perfect!

On the return journey we followed the coast up the peninsula bounded by Akyreri and Hofsos. That was really stunning. Perfect conditions allowed us to see all the way to Grimsey Island off the coast and into the arctic circle. The colours and forms extraordinarily beautiful the whole way.

At the time of writing this, some 10 days after the trip, I am well settled in at Skagaströnd and comfortable. The other artists are all lovely and it was interesting learning about each others’ work at a recent Artist Presentation.

Since I arrived on Jan 2nd, the sunrise – sunset time has increased from just over 3hrs to just under 6hrs. It’s changed unbelievably fast. However, I have to confess, it is not the darkness that affected me as I had expected, it’s the profound absence of familiar friends back home. I’d love just one night out at Fringeworld with a few of you or to share a meal in the kitchen at the Artsource studios with my art buddies to keep me from becoming too self-absorbed!

I’ve produced a lot of ink studies and recently acquired some oils which I’m working into them with. I’ve posted a couple of images on my Instagram and will probably do a post entirely dedicated to that subject sometime in the next few weeks.

 

Arriving in Iceland and heading north

Icelanders are dissonant about the impact of a sudden boom in tourist numbers. I can totally understand why. Keflavik airport is not equipped to deal with the crowds coming and going. I literally smacked into bodies as soon as I exited the ramp from the plane door! There was not a spare centimetre of space. The tourist crowds were more evident again when after checking in to my hotel I went wandering. I walked about 4km and did not hear a word of Icelandic.

Thankfully, this was rectified the next day when I went gallery hopping through town. Entering one commercial contemporary space, the woman who greeted me was halfway through her sales pitch before I could point out to her that I didn’t understand a word. The work on show was a solo show by Hildur Bjarndóttir who is obviously having a good run. Her work was also showcased at one of the major state galleries too. Both shows consisted of silks and woven threads dyed using local flora. Not to my taste but they look good when grouped together. The ceiling in the gallery enhanced the works (see picture).

Reykjavik is a nice looking city with some stunning views across the harbour. The light is what strikes you most about the place. It has a delicate pinkness to it for most of the daylight hours that varies in intensity depending on whether you’re looking over the sea or land.

The journey north took me through some interesting variations. My travelling companion, fellow NES resident artist Alyson Jackson kept remarking how little snow there was in comparison to her last visit in February 2016. There was a light amount of snow in the area adjacent to the Snæfellsnes peninsula. South of that was black rockiness and north of it, long vistas of yellow grass with peaks now and then with dustings of snow on top. Around Staðarskáli intersection the land was very reminiscent of the Pilbara region only in pastel colours. I was not expecting that.