Some writing about my Iceland project

This is a piece written by Sally Cryer about the Iceland project:

Iceland was an interesting breakthrough.  The trip to this arctic wilderness was to seek inspiration and provided the perfect opportunity for Sara to indulge her fixation with evolving landscape; it’s conservation and ecology.  Iceland is a country famous for its unspoiled natural beauty.  It is one of the youngest landmasses on the planet and consequently home to some of the world’s most active volcanoes.  With a landscape consisting of bare rock, stony deserts, sandy wastelands and steaming lava fields, Iceland has some of the few remaining large wilderness areas in Europe.


For Sara this is a place that has all the ingredients, movement, change and rigidity.  But her visit made her realise the pressures these unique natural features are facing.  As humans have exploited the forests here, volcanic activity and glacier movement have contributed to the loss of vegetation through wind erosion. For over a hundred years Icelanders have been fighting to halt and reverse this erosion by re-seeding and fencing off land to keep out sheep.  But with just a quarter of land under continuous plant cover, it remains one of the most serious environmental issues facing the country.


In her Icelandic exhibition Sara has gathered up all of her thoughts about this land, it’s evolution and extremes, and produced a whole series of work that contextualises these issues.  Using a concise palette of cool blues, greys, greens and whites, her paintings present a rough-hewn landscape that sum up the prevailing windswept atmosphere of the place.  Here she could paint from life and later layer her paintings with imagined scenes and memories back in the studio.


The exhibition features a variety of her techniques.  Three red canvasses ‘Brun’, depict the scorched, volcanic black sand of the island.  Using a mixture of graphite powder to give texture and red and black oil paint, each is a progression of subtle differences.


In ‘Window Weather’ Sara found that by using Indian rag paper, with its rough and absorbent texture, she could enhance the subject matter, working into the surface with ink, charcoal, pastels and candle wax.  The title is from an Icelandic phrase meaning ‘looking out at the weather from inside’ and this perfectly suited Sara as she was painting the landscape physically inside her studio, but also from inside her head.


The largest painting ‘Dragur’ is an oil-on-canvas depicting fish swimming in disturbingly orange-coloured water.  This more graphic work touches on Sara’s concerns for the marine environment, specifically that fish stocks are disappearing.  Fisheries are the mainstay of Iceland’s economy and Icelandic waters are amongst the cleanest in the world, rich in seabirds and marine mammals like seals, whales and dolphins.  With some of the most prolific fishing grounds in the North Atlantic Ocean, the country is naturally a strong voice in the fight against pollution of the seas.


Although a quota system has been developed, limiting total allowable catch at a level deemed sustainable, Sara is worried that supplying the wider market has brought about a number of giant fish factories here, with the result that fishing in the smaller Icelandic villages is dying out.  In these, the jetties full of rusty machinery and boats are echoed in this painting of herring swimming in rusty-coloured water.  For Sara the painting is a passive response to our lack of conservation awareness.


This stunning exhibition perfectly captures the resilient beauty of this land of volcanoes and glaciers, and offers an immediate experience of the powerful yet fragile nature of this dramatically changing landscape.