Lisa Lebofsky was one of the participating artists on the Chasing the Light expedition. Her paintings on aluminum explore the limitless capacity of the mind when it engages with nature. She holds an MFA in painting from the New York Academy of Art, and is the recipient of several awards and residencies including the Prince of Wales Scholarship travel grant to the Château de Balleroy, France (2005) and the Terra Nova National Park Artist in Residence (2010). Lisa, along with artist Zaria Forman will be at the Museum for one month starting on 4/26/13 as artists in residence.
Carrying an oversized backpack housing a sketchbox easel, foldable chair, collapsible table and painting supplies, I disembark from the skiff that transported us from our sailing vessel, The Wanderbird and step onto dry land at Upernavik. Using William Bradford’s Arctic Regions as our guide, we knew there was at least one specific point of interest here: a view documented by Dunmore and Critcherson of a nearby mountain named “Kresarsoak” (known today as Qaersorssuaq or Sandersons Hope).
I haul the dense backpack uphill through the settlement, enjoying the views of brightly painted homes set against the crashing waves with shimmering icebergs and blue-grey islands dotting the horizon. As I wind up through the streets and hills, the unmistakable contours of the sought after mountains appear in my sights. The sun bounced off of the rocky facades and glistened across the silvery ice caps. This was the view.
Painting en plein air offers many challenges. Aside from exposure to the elements, the light is constantly changing due to passing clouds, or the passage of time. Consequently, one is painting a living and moving subject. Decisions need to be made concerning what to commit to and what to improvise when producing the painting. The first decision to make is where to set up the easel. There was a flat grassy spot with the sun coming at me from the right. One should look for a level spot, with the sun neither backlighting nor bleaching out the painting surface. The next decision is what to paint. I knew I had limited time, not only due to meeting back up with my shipmates, but also because light changes rapidly. The brightest spot at the beginning may become the darkest within an hour. I snap a photo to preserve what it is that first attracted me to the scene.
After these initial decisions and set up, I begin to paint. Colors are mixed and matched and a rough composition is sketched out by brush onto the panel. Shapes are blocked in, wiped out, developed, textured, and manipulated. The light starts to change and I have to start making decisions on what to keep and what to alter on this fluid surface. I step back from the work, squint my eyes, and add some more brush marks to make sure the painting conveys the rough rock.
The light has moved too much at this point, so I snap a final photo to have concrete evidence of how the view has changed. I will look at these photos when examining the painting later in the studio. I pack everything up, rejoin the team, and we make our way back to The Wanderbird for supper and shared tales of our adventures in Upernavik.
Painting en plein air allows for an immediacy with the subject and a way of painting that studio work does not afford. It forces quick thinking, invention, and flexibility. Oftentimes, I will take the plein air paintings back to the studio and spend time with them, both as an isolated image and with the photos I took of the view to see if it needs anything further for completion. The new discoveries I make while painting en plein air inform how I approach my studio work. Additionally, having that in-person moment with the subject matter allows me to paint a sensation of place, rather than just its replication. I look forward to taking the discoveries made during the Chasing the Light expedition and translating them into the setting of the New Bedford Whaling Museum during the residency this spring. In Chasing the Light, I was physically in the moments offered by Greenland. In the Whaling Museum, I will be reliving those moments and sharing through paint, the sensation of being in Greenland.