Last year Lewes-based artist Adele Gibson travelled to the Arctic to witness the effects of climate change and is now hoping to spark a discussion with her work

Great British Life: Sailing North by Adele GibsonSailing North by Adele Gibson (Image: Archant)

Like many local artists Adele Gibson started off painting the South Downs, which are conveniently located a short walk from her garden studio in Lewes. But since picking up a copy of A World Without Ice, a book on climate change by geophysicist Henry Pollack, Adele has wanted to paint nothing but ice.

"I am an ice painter," Adele declares as she shows me around her home and studio in Lewes. Not that I need the explanation, for the walls of her suburban home are covered with large and dramatic depictions of the ice glaciers of the far north.

Her love affair with ice and a concern about the effects of climate change were the inspiration behind her decision to undertake an MA in fine art at the University of Brighton. For the course she created a series of paintings inspired by trips to Iceland to witness the effects of global warming on glacier ice first hand.

"I was blown away by the landscape when I first visited Iceland and I just didn't want to paint anything other than ice. I live on the Downs and it is beautiful, but there are lots of people painting this landscape and doing my MA just gave me a different perspective. It's about making art to say something meaningful," she explains.

That desire to create work that says something about the world we live in is what inspired her to take up an artistic residency onboard a ship that travelled to the Arctic last summer.

The trip was organised by The Arctic Circle which runs an annual trip for artists, scientists and educators to explore the Svalbad archipelago and Arctic Ocean onboard a specially kitted out sailboat.

Great British Life: Blomstrandbreen by Adele GibsonBlomstrandbreen by Adele Gibson (Image: Archant)

Speaking about the trip, Adele says: "It was a real emotional rollercoaster and we saw things that were just awe-inspiring." But Adele says it also brought home the impact that humans have on the landscape, as she explains: "The sheer size of glaciers that were so beautiful and pristine completely contrasted with places that were littered with plastic. Nobody lives in these places, but because of the ocean's currents this part of the Arctic is one of those places that are dumping grounds for plastic waste. We took garbage bags to do some litter collecting, but there were some places we went to that we would have needed to spend a week there to clean it."

Adele also had a couple of encounters with the local wildlife including a very large and inquisitive male polar bear just 20ft away from the group. They were also faced with the more "confronting" image of a very skinny mother and cub on the hunt for some much-needed food.

All of this inspired Adele to create a large body of work while on the trip. Adele usually prefers to work in oils, but found that they were too messy for the voyage. Instead she used watercolours on the trip and experimented with using snow to create ice spatters. She even dipped some paintings in the sea to achieve natural and unique patterns.

On the landscape, Adele says: "It's completely wild and unlike anything else that you can experience and because of the extremes of weather the geology is very exposed, so that means you get amazing shapes. There is a shade of blue that you get in a glacier that just kind of hits me. It's just so incredibly beautiful that I don't have words to describe it, but that's why I paint."

On her return home Adele locked herself away in her studio for six months to try to capture what she saw with a series of oil paintings. She worked entirely from her memory to evoke the feelings that she felt when she was there.

"Working in the landscape gives you an immediate response, but taking it into the studio gives you a more considered and polished piece. I don't take the stuff that I did on the trip and try to reproduce it in the studio," she explains.

Adele is hoping to spark a conversation about climate change and is using skills from her career in business to organise events that confront what is happening in the Arctic. She has secured Arts Council funding to put on an event at Brighton University called Let's Talk About the Anthropocene that will bring together artists and speakers to discuss the impact that humans have on the natural world.

"I want to communicate the beauty of this pristine wilderness which is being sullied by our actions," Adele says, adding that she has no plans to paint anything other than ice any time soon.

Good to know

Let's talk about the Anthropocene will take place at the University of Brighton's Grand Parade gallery from 27 July - 3 August 2019. Adele will also be showing some of her ice paintings at the Regency Town House in Brighton in May as part of Artists Open Houses.


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