Vermont artist and Johnson State College Fine Arts Professor Ken Leslie has completed more than a dozen Arctic residencies over the past 15 years, creating paintings and artist’s books about light and time, both of which take on endlessly interesting permutations in the north. Leslie’s paintings and unique book structures were created during residencies in the northern regions of Alaska, Canada’s Baffin Island, Iceland, Svalbard, Scandinavia, and – most recently – Greenland.
Having experienced the Arctic in both summer and winter, Leslie prefers the dark time: “The first thing I noticed, and loved, about the Winter Arctic is the Quiet. Snow muffles what little noise there is . . . the few roads are easy to escape; there are no trees for the wind to rustle, and the millions of summer birds have long since gone – the terns all the way to Antarctica. That Quiet is the perfect sound track for the Dark. When you hear of ‘24 hours of darkness,’ you get the idea of total, pitch-black darkness. But the reality is that there are many kinds of darkness. What the Winter Arctic loses in direct sunlight, it gains in twilights – the most amazing range of rich indigos and French ultramarines and cobalts. The intensity of this blue seems greatest when there’s a cloud cover, and what little light there is reverberates back and forth between the sky above and the snow cover below. The filtered light wavelength seems to multiply in saturation, and you feel as if you’re walking through blue, not merely below it or in front of it. You breathe it in, bathe in it – become part of it.”
In speaking of his powerful watercolor “The Last Umiak,” depicting a spiritual journey by umiak, a traditional skin boat used by both Yup’ik and Inuit Eskimos, Leslie reveals, “I dreamed this last journey of that disappearing culture.” Found in coastal communities from Siberia to Greenland, the large, open umiaks were traditionally used to transport groups of people and for crews hunting walrus and whales. In the eastern Arctic, the umiaks were frequently rowed by women to transport children and family possessions and are sometimes referred to as “women’s boats.” Umiaks, still made from Bearded seal (or sometimes walrus) skins but often fitted with an outboard motor, are sill very much in use in Alaska’s northern coastal villages during the spring whaling season when the large boats are launched by whaling crews from the ice edge of the open lead in pursuit of Bowhead whales migrating along the coast.
While many of Leslie’s works are typically flat, he has pioneered working on circular constructions that allow him to paint 360° panoramas that move through space and time. While working on a particularly large drawing, Leslie realized that “if I cut a hole in the center, I could fold the work into what became my ‘doughnut accordion’ structure.” These signature creations are, indeed, doughnut-shaped, narrative paintings, many of which focus on light and the way it changes with and through the Arctic seasons. In addition to paintings, Leslie also creates one-of-a-kind artist’s books, which address a variety of themes, including “our place in the universe, a layman’s theory of relativity, the battle between nature and technology, and light and dark on or above the Arctic Circle,” explains Leslie.
The Chandler Center for the Arts has additional activities planned to complement the exhibit. A lecture on the topic of Northern cultures by CCS Trustee Kathleen Osgood will be offered (free of charge) at 7PM on Monday, 22 July in the Gallery, and a printmaking workshop (pre-registration and fee required) will be offered by Janet Cathey at 4:30PM on Tuesday, 30 July.
For more information, please contact Beck McMeekin (802.728.6464).