Erling Sjovold, Ghost, 2015, watercolor, gum arabic, and black sand on polypropolene paper, courtesy of artist
A day at the Glacial Lagoon
I spent a full day at Jökulsárlón, the popular glacial lagoon on Iceland’s southeastern shore, on July 9, 2013. I stayed from roughly 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., to watch, paint, photograph, and listen to the icebergs floating throughout the day. At Jökulsárlón, one can see the icebergs’ path from mountainous glacial source to vast ocean exit from a single viewpoint. Like most glaciers, this one is receding, and the lake expanding, due to climatic change.
I started this body of artwork during my residency in Iceland at Hafnarborg, The Hafnarfjördur Centre of Culture and Fine Art in Hafnarfjördur, a small town south of Reykjavík. A Weinstein Travel Grant made this visit and residency possible.
Ghost, Untitled (Portraits), and the large triptych Grinding Memory focus on drawing to interpret the iceberg’s shape and fluidity through line. I drew them with brushes using watercolor, gum arabic, and black sand from the beach at Vik. The presence of fine black sand and coarse volcanic ash on and within the ice contradicts the feeling of slick clear ice one may anticipate from glaciers and icebergs. Encountering such prevalence of glacier and iceberg textures shifted my attention from one of appearances to one of processes.
Ghost, Untitled (Portraits), and Grinding Memory are not archival, and are intentionally ephemeral in form. I used gum arabic, the traditional binder for watercolor, to carry and secure the sand. However, the amount of gum arabic needed to suspend the sand far exceeds recommended proportions for an archival watercolor to the degree that this binder becomes brittle and prone to cracking, flaking and general failure. The various trays placed below the paintings anticipate their ephemerality and residue, like hands below that collect the sand and gestural marks as they yield. I imagine the works eventually as trays of sand below eroded and faint images above, reminders to myself to be present, engaged, and to remember. These borrow from geologic processes of entropy and glaciers’ identity as valley carvers and earth grinders, agents of fertile soil and hospitable place. These also allude to the vanitas and momento mori traditions as reflections on ephemerality and mortality.
Through gesture and color in Bloom and Your Unfinished Water I approach icebergs as dynamic subjects, chaotic and uncontained by a single, definitive profile. Each work explores fluctuating contours negotiated by differing colors, textures and densities of paints in which their wet into wet reactions create multiple edges and outlines similar to an iceberg’s changing shape over time. These fluid interactions reveal their own natural phenomena, much like the geologic and hydrologic processes of their glacial subjects. These archival works are done in acrylic, watercolor and black sand on polypropylene paper.
The photo series Glyphs and Glaciers explores glaciers as texts to be read and decoded similar to those of ancient hieroglyphs. “Glyph” derives from the Greek “to carve” or “carving”. Multiple couplets of photographed glacial and archeological fragments “float” on the wall, while the photographs themselves are also fragments to consider. Glacial ice core samples reveal frozen layers of atmosphere compiled over thousands of years. Within those layers are tiny air bubbles encapsulating the climatic code of its time that inform scientists of our atmospheric history, not unlike the Rosetta Stone that allowed for the decoding of Egyptian hieroglyphs and its cultural history. The Egyptian hieroglyphs reference our efforts to reconstruct fragments into a coherent record of early civilization while the icebergs become the fragments of an intact historical record that is rapidly eroding, potentially into oblivion.
Jökulsárlón (Ice Core Sample), Across-Down, also frames glacial ice as a text. In it the images of ice core samples ground text derived from the constraints of down-across prompts of a NY Times crossword puzzle. This particular crossword puzzle shares the same date as my visit to Jökulsárlón. Ice core samples tell their own creation stories, not unlike the coincidental crossword references to Genesis in the text. This piece contrasts the overlay of two radically different time referents, the geologic clock of ice cores against the cultural clock of humanity.
Erling Sjovold is Associate Professor of Art, here at the University of Richmond. He received his B.A. in art from the University of California, Berkeley, and MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He also has had numerous solo exhibitions, including locally at Page Bond Gallery, University of Richmond, and the VMFA, and at galleries in Santa Barbara, California, and in Chicago. He has been awarded several artist residencies including one from the Marie Walks Sharpe Art Foundation/Space Program Studios in New York, and from the National Park Service and CLUI, the Center for Land Use Interpretation
Erling Sjovold, Bloom (details), 2015, acrylic, watercolor and black sand on polypropolene paper, courtesy of artist
Erling Sjovold, Glyphs and Glaciers (detail), 2015, photo installation, courtesy of artist