Roberts Gallery Blog
Roberts Gallery Blog

Some thoughts on my trip to Greenland and Labrador – Alan Stein

Two years ago, in the fall of 2017, I joined Adventure Canada on a trip to Greenland and Labrador. We flew directly from Toronto to Kangerlussuaq and the first thing that struck me when we got off the plane was the shock of the barren landscape, no trees, barely any vegetation at all, only rock and water. I set myself the task of sketching everyday no matter the weather conditions for the duration of the trip.

Some highlights

The first night at anchor there was an announcement from the bridge that northern lights had been spotted. I bundled up in all my warm gear and headed for the upper deck where I spent the next 3 hours watching in wonder as the amazing display just seemed to get better and better, the clear, star filled sky was now full of the intensity of the northern lights, flowing movement and changing colour. We crossed the Arctic Circle the next day in bright unfiltered intense sunlight, travelling by zodiac up to the face of a nearby glacier. The sun was low in the sky, but brilliant. Everything seemed to be in ‘technicolour’, the iceberg bits floating around us, the colour of the water and the rocks, as a result, were incredible. I experienced first hand the theory that the intensity of light influences colour and the experience of observing that light influences how we perceive colour.

Over the next couple of days we spent an afternoon in Kangaamiut, a coastal village in Greenland, with very colourful houses that seemed to be stacked up the hillsides, a real contrast to the stark barren rock on which they were built. In the distance I could see snow covered mountains and the Greenland ice sheet. I made several sketches around the harbour and then climbed a hill above the town to make a sketch of the houses with the sea and mountains beyond. The next day we visited the capital city, Nuuk, with historic buildings, a wonderful museum and a very good restaurant serving local specialties that included Caribou burgers. Then, the crossing of the Davis Strait in 50 knot, gale force winds, and 5 metre high waves. Standing on deck it was virtually impossible to take an in-focus photograph. I held onto the railing for dear life as the boat rocked and waves rolled by, feeling as though the wind was trying to blow me off the ship. The only other person out on the upper deck with me was the on-board cinematographer.

When we arrived at Torngat Mountains National Park I was surprised by the intensity of the fall colours in all the low growth shrubs covering the lower reaches of the mountains. One day we landed on the black sand beach of Ramah where I sketched the unusual striations of rock in the mountains above the beach, with a waterfall cascading down nearby. When the sun broke though the clouds and it warmed up, I stripped off my coat and kept sketching as the whole hillside lit up in spectacular colour.

Another day we came to the end of the Saglek Fjord where the still water was like a mirror, with reflections of the mountains partially obscured by the thin skim of ice formed by freshwater freezing in a thin layer over the sea water. There was fog in the upper reaches of the highest craggy mountaintops, over a kilometer high, but again the sun broke through to reveal the amazing reds, oranges and yellows of the low growth shrubs on the lower mountainsides. Polar bears and then caribou, sighted in the distance, completing the scene.

I often had to work quite quickly so most of my on-site sketches were in pencil, but I also used Neocolour water-soluble crayons when I could. These sketches along with some reference photographs form the inspiration for the larger works that will be on display at the Roberts Gallery, in their temporary location at 300 Campbell Avenue, Toronto. Opening Saturday November 16 through to November 30, 2019.