Painting Arctic, Isolated Landscapes: A Formal Introduction

Painting Arctic, Isolated Landscapes: A Formal Introduction

It’s been a pleasure to read your comments, messages and thoughts about my first entry to Word and Image last week, thank you to everyone who took the time to read it and share your thoughts with me. Word and Image draws its name from the semiotic study of word-image relationships. I was first introduced to the phrase during my Honours year of Art History; Word and Image is the title of an endlessly interesting research journal of verbal and visual inquiry, it’s also the name of a Research Cluster at the Courtauld Institute in London, which explores the broad relationships between images and language, from paintings to emojis. “Word and Image” repeatedly appears in art theory and recently I’ve been engrossed in it. I’ve realised that a semiotic approach to art which considers the relationship between words and images is central to my artistic practice. Therefore, this blog, a written outlet, is just as important to my creative process as drawings and sketching.  It's a platform to share, evolve, digest and refine the theory behind my work, and it’s a pleasure to know people are reading it! 

But why start a blog now? I’ve been full-time in my practice for 18 months and I’ve written and painted for years and years, but this is the first time I’m sharing my non-academic writing publicly. So why now? - three words: Building in public. It’s a new concept I’ve just recently learnt and it’s at the centre of the Blackbird Foundation’s Protostars Program. Building in public is the process of sharing your creative process and journey in a public manner as it develops. It’s a way of building community, learning from the feedback of others and becoming a bolder, braver artist. Since joining the Blackbird Foundation Protostars Program, Word and Image has come to fruition. So, what exactly is Blackbird funding?

Over the next 10 weeks (and beyond) I’ll be developing a series of miniature landscape paintings that depict arctic, isolated settings; each work will be a window of perception, a fragment of something larger and more sublime, and the audience will be invited to step into each scene through the extremity of scale. As a portrait artist, a series of landscapes is certainly different for me, but as my ideas have developed and matured, I’ve discovered that a landscape is not so different from a portrait at all. Yes, they are very different visually, but I perceive both subjects as being profoundly psychological; a landscape contains the essence of the people that occupy it and it’s this psychological dimension to the land that I want to convey. There’ll be some portraiture weaved through the project as well (I’ll never be able to divorce myself from that wonderful subject matter), but primarily I’ll be painting icebergs, glaciers and sublime skies.

Poetry is also becoming a central component to my process of painting these landscapes. It's another creative outlet that allows me to convey the thoughts and ideas I'm trying to represent visually. If a picture contains a thousand words, how much is conveyed in a picture accompanied with a line of metaphorical poetry? Michael (Corinne) West, the subject of my Honours thesis, kept a Notes on Art journal throughout her 60-year career - it was something she was equally obsessed with as painting and it occupied much of her time and became her means of working out her ideas and purpose. Michael's dedication to word and image has never left my thoughts. 


In mapping out the paintings in this project, I’ve been writing poetry and selecting lines to correspond with individual paintings. Once a line of poetry is selected, I work from a small collection of film photographs I took during my travels in Iceland in October 2022, cropping fragmented views to inform my composition. The words will be incorporated into the display of the artworks when they are eventually exhibited, imbuing them with the layered meanings felt within the language. In combination with memory, I paint scenes that convey a miniature, but intense package of visual and written experience laced with feelings of comfort, isolation, the uncanny, ordinary and sublime.


While my project is still in its early stages, I’m enjoying seeing it come to life, and most of all, taking the time to develop ideas thoughtfully and approach my practice from a position of art theory. The ideas are still very raw, and while it feels strange to share so much while the project is still in its infancy, I hope the vulnerability of giving these early ideas an audience will force me to improve and resolve them in a manner way beyond what I could achieve alone in the studio.

I would absolutely love to hear your input of the project so far. Let me know your thoughts on the psychological dimension of landscape. Do you think our environment contains consciousness? How does it influence ours? What’s the significance of the relationship between the pictures we make and language we use to describe them? As this project continues to develop, I’ll be sharing it all here at Word and Image and through a visual manner on Instagram (@melclmnts), thank you for joining me!


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Thanks for your comment Brian! In terms of scale, absolutely, I think large scale is always what we expect, and I wanted to challenge that expectation. Maybe it’s just the way my brain works, but when I think back to seeing beautiful places, I remember the whole vista, but I’m also captured by small fragments of observation – an iceberg, a point on the horizon, a branch – and I find it’s the combination of all these fragmented observations that make our perspective (and phenomenology) of the world human. It’s also a way to quantify and make sense of something as monumental as the sublime. Thank you for following along!

Melissa Clements

While the small scale/miniature of Landscapes are I am sure very difficult to create, as someone with no artistic talent at all I do always expect to see larger portrayals of landscapes/vistas. There is so much wonder in the natural world that capturing with the pen or brush the detail and visual poetry that should not be missed, must be extremely difficult. Good luck developing this project, look forward to seeing it grow! B. Winter.

Brian Winter

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