The Incomprehensible Urge to Curl Up Inside an Ice Cave

The Incomprehensible Urge to Curl Up Inside an Ice Cave

Over the past few weeks, I've been working on something a little different. In keeping with the project and the aim of painting arctic, isolated landscapes with a psychological dimension to them, I've been painting an ice cave, but the scale and concept is very different. For those who have been tracking my progress online, you'll know that most of my works are characterised by their miniature scale—these art pieces offer glimpses into cropped scenes that encapsulates the sublime, that overwhelming blend of awe and reverence that nature's grandeur elicits. Yet, by shrinking these scenes into compact yet potent views of experience, I've aimed to evoke an intensified emotional response, akin to visual poetry,

However, for this painting, I've gone large scale. Working from a reference image from the inside of an ice cave I'd explored in Skaftafell, I was captivated by the alluring crystalline blue hues of the ice and I wanted to capture not only the visual grandeur but also the staggering scale of the cave itself. I commenced the process with an underpainting to establish the fundamental shapes and tonal values, upon which colour would later be applied. Painting large scale meant I had to consciously refrain from becoming engrossed in intricate details, periodically stepping back from the canvas, assessing the overall composition, and making adjustments.

With each successive layer, I refined the shapes, intensified the colour and added flecks of light and ash embedded within the ice's texture. 

This project has been one of contrast - contrast in scale, contrast in word and image - I'm enjoying placing ideas alongside one another to create new ideas. During this process, something I've been thinking about is the combination of portraiture and landscape without merely painting a figure in the scene. How can I capture the individual physically while emphasising the idea of the individual over their likeness?

Before commencing work on the ice cave painting, I had incorporated a small 14 x 10cm cutout in the canvas. This space was reserved for another artwork, a portrait of sorts, though the specifics were unknown at this point. Curiously, I kept returning to the recurring imagery of a curled-up form. This posture evoked a sense of tranquility, contentment, and a humbling recognition of one's insignificance amidst the sublime expanse. Whenever I go into a forest, for example, part of me wishes I could curl up in a neat ball and not be found. 

My first attempt was a self portrait curled up within a lush carpet of moss, that luxuriously soft, verdant covering that stretches across Iceland's lava fields. While I found merit in the piece (which remains unfinished), its essence didn't harmonise with the ethereal aura of the ice cave painting. What I sought was a medium that could seamlessly embody the otherworldly quality of ice. I envisioned painting upon a polished, chrome metal. After a series of trials, I experimented with aluminium, meticulously polishing it until it mirrored a muted reflection. Yet, its imperfections left me unsatisfied. In the end I landed on mirrored acrylic, which was a beautiful surface and delightful canvas to work on.

Using a stencil as a guide, I painted the form in gesso, prior to adding the figure using oil paints. I liked the final result—the finish was sleek and seemingly aglow with an underlying mirror.

As I placed this complementary painting within the designated void of the ice cave piece the piece was finished. It's been one of my most ambitious paintings, both in concept and execution. The entire process has served as a huge learning experience and I'm looking forward to making more like this. 

I'm curious to know any recommendations on painting on chrome-like metal - any ideas of where to source this in Perth? I also am eager to hear your thoughts on the painting itself!

Melissa

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