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Arctic artist and geographer Nicholas Jones' evocative icebergs

  • Written by  Geographical
  • Published in Polar
Twilight berg and solitary star Twilight berg and solitary star Nicholas Jones
13 Oct
Artist and geographer Nick Jones was appointed artist in residence for the Friends of the Scott Polar Research Institute, and in 2018 voyaged to Greenland and Baffin Island, painting pictures of icebergs, clouds, cliffs and seascapes

'At this point in history, when our planet is heating at an unprecedented rate, the image of an iceberg holds a haunting poignancy,' says artist Nick Jones. In 2018, he boarded the Akademik Sergei Vavilov (a 117-metre Russian former polar research vessel) with paint, paper, camera and sketchbooks and set up a studio on the top deck.

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The result is a new body of work, samples of which can be found below, which is currently being showcased in Nick's solo exhibition, 30 Years at Crane Kalman Gallery, a retrospective open in London until Saturday 30 October.

'I decided very early on that my aim for the voyage was simply to be as present as possible to the whole experience; to really look, see, and feel,' says Jones. 

An Austere Beauty Iceberg off Cape Mercy Baffin Island 2019An Austere Beauty, Iceberg off Cape Mercy, Baffin Island

'We sailed from Kangerlussuaq in Western Greenland, down the 190km Sondre Strom fjord, then up the west coast of Greenland as far as Qeqrtarssuaq,' explains the artist. 'En route, we stopped at a number of settlements including Ilulissat with its extraordinary ice fjord, designated by UNESCO as a world heritage site. It is the sea mouth of Sermeq Kujalleq, one of the few glaciers through which the Greenland ice cap reaches the sea, and one of the fastest and most active glaciers in the world. We then sailed west across the Davis Strait to the Canadian Arctic and down the east coast of Baffin Island.'

Iceberg Evening Light Cape Mercy 2018Iceberg, Evening Light, Cape Mercy

'Freed from the routines and distractions of normal life I felt an unusual clarity of mind and an increasing connection to the rhythms and wonder of the natural world,' says Jones. 'I found it exhilarating being immersed in an environment made up of the simplest ingredients: ice, water, rock and light. On my return those intense experiences of vast Arctic space and its numinous light stayed with me and seemed to induce a new and intense clarity to my paintings.'

A Deeper Presence Moonlit Iceberg Off Cape Mercy Baffin Island 2019 20 A Deeper Presence, Moonlit Iceberg Off Cape Mercy, Baffin Island

 'As I watched them glide past with a dignified and solemn indifference I was not only entranced by their austere beauty, but I felt the ache of loss that they speak so powerfully of. Icebergs are, of course, a natural part of the cycle of life on our planet. But the rapidly heating of the earth is accelerating the quantity and rate of rate at which icebergs calve from glaciers, with potentially catastrophic implications.'

Bright Fog and Iceberg 2019Bright Fog and Iceberg

 'Over time an iceberg gradually thaws, breaks up and releases the sediment that it has been carrying and so enriches the ocean bed.  Though the form of an iceberg is continually being altered by the elements, the berg quite naturally maintains its balance, sometimes rotating dramatically in the water to reveal parts of itself that had long been submerged, and thus regains its equipoise. Ultimately, however, it surrenders itself into something bigger – the greater flow and oneness from which it came.'

Dawn Light Cape Mercy Baffin Island 2019Dawn Light, Cape Mercy, Baffin Island

Floating Ice Ilulissat 2020Floating Ice, Ilulissat

 'At a personal symbolic level, I find icebergs to be beautiful images of trust, surrender and letting go, all qualities that I aspire to. Once an iceberg has calved from the glacier or ice shelf from which it was formed, it trusts itself to the elements; the wind, waves and ocean currents. It may for a while be grounded in water too shallow to support its immensity, but in time it will be carried out to sea on the ocean currents allowing itself to be shaped and sculpted by the flow of time, tide, wind and weather.'

illulisat kayak

 'Generally, I would get up around 5am and head out on deck where I would spend a couple of hours watching as the sky brightened and sun rose,' says Jones. 'I found the wonderfully crisp, pure and subtle qualities of arctic light entrancing. It was exhilarating being at sea and I passed happy hours on deck breathing it all in. The experience of drawing even closer to the ice in a kayak and putting my hands in the water, and sitting in silence listening to the stillness, is one that I will not quickly forget.'

untitled 1 of 1 328The artist on board the Akademik Sergei Vavilov

untitled 1 of 1 211The Akademik Sergei Vavilov sails through icy water 

 30 Years at Crane Kalman Gallery is open in London until Saturday 30 October

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