arctic circle

The far edge of the world by Leigh McCarthy

The Great Escape  (2010), graphite on paper 

The Great Escape (2010), graphite on paper 

Today, the inimitable author and activist, Rebecca Solnit, releases the paperback edition of her book, The Encyclopedia of Trouble and Spaciousness. The book begins with a dispatch from an arctic expedition she embarked upon in 2011 from Svalbard: 

"Far. That first morning, there was out the porthole of my cabin a little blue iceberg. We were in Magdalenafjord, the bay at the end of the earth, the northwest corner of Svalbard in the high Arctic, more than a dozen degrees north of the Arctic Circle. Beyond it were stony gray hills with glaciers curving down the valleys in between most of them. The idea of being so far north was exciting enough, and then there were all those things I always wanted to see: icebergs, reindeer, polar bears, along with all the things I’m always happy to see: water, sky, spaciousness, land forms, light, scale. More than anyplace I’ve ever been, this one imposed a dependency: there was no way out except by this boat, and no way to communicate with the outside world except by this boat. Which was also an independency, from the rest of the world. Times when the view went all the way to the horizon and no land was visible on that side of the boat, when the sea was a delicate blue-gray and the sky was the same color, the sea smooth with billowing ripples that did not break into waves, the sky smooth, and only seabirds coasting along the surface of the sea, coming close to their own reflections, bending but not breaking the smoothness and vastness. The far edge of the world, at the back of the North Wind, east of the sun and west of the moon, as far as far, at the back of beyond, out of reach, out of touch, out of the ordinary, beyond the Arctic Circle, beyond so many things. Far. "

Solnit headed to the Arctic to witness a disaster in slow motion -- the disappearance of the ice pack as it melts. I will follow her in October of 2016, but have meditated on the weight of that symbolic loss for years as depicted in the drawing (posted above), The Great Escape (2010).  Solnit's words resonate with me, "I see disaster everywhere; I also [...] see generosity and resistance everywhere." Solnit's resistance is her story. My resistance is my art.


dreaming of the Arctic Circle by Leigh McCarthy


I am thrilled to announce I was selected to join The Arctic Circle Autumn Art & Science Expedition in October of 2016. This unique residency program takes place aboard a Norwegian tall ship that embarks from the Longyearbyen, SvalbardAs the Arctic ice pack rapidly dwindles, the chance to travel with a group of artists and scientists to document this fragile ecosystem feels more urgent than ever. 

In 1991, I traveled to Prince William Sound on a month-long sea kayaking expedition two years after the Exxon Valdez disaster. I heard stories about what I could no longer see: otters in their breeding grounds, blue mussels that previously lined the shores, and birds missing from the sky. High powered water pushed the oil a few inches below the surface but its damaging effects were ever present. Experiencing this loss first-hand influences the themes and subject matter of my work which depicts landlocked cargo ships shipwrecked like beached whales that have lost their way. My work seeks not to treat these incidents directly, but rather to evoke the yearning for the sublime that lay at the heart of these journeys, and others like it. 

Sailing through the Arctic archipelago, I will explore one of the last untouched ecosystems in the world. During this residency I will create an art project that tells the story of what soon disappear from this majestic landscape for those who will never have a chance to witness it first hand.