Trio of local artists present multimedia exhibit of Iceland-inspired works
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Steamboat Springs-based artists Sandi Poltorak and Maggie Smith were out hiking one day when conversation meandered to far-away landscapes.
“One of us said, ‘Let’s go to Iceland,’” Poltorak recalled.
The two, who share an art studio, had almost traveled to Iceland several years before, but eventually decided on Cuba instead. This time around, they were set on the small Nordic island, and they invited photographer Abby Jensen along.
“I jumped at the chance,” Jensen said.
The trio picked a departure date — June 6, 2019 — got organized and packed their bags. During the two-week trip, they planned to travel the circumference of Iceland on a network of backroads. Staying in a small camper rather than booked hotels meant the crew would have optimal flexibility.
“It was all about not having an agenda,” Poltorak said.
“It was very much fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants — my favorite way to travel,” Jensen said. “That way, we could chase the light.”
They spent two days in the Icelandic capital of Reykjavik, on the island’s southwest coast, before heading to Snæfellsjökull National Park, which is home to a glacier and formations of volcanic palagonite tuff, porous rock formed from consolidated volcanic ash.
Next was a stop at the Bjarnarhöfn Shark Museum, where they tried fermented Greenland shark, then onto the Látrabjarg Bird Cliffs and the Ísafjördour West Fjords. They spent a day with Hyammstangi seals and Icelandic horses and explored the Dettifoss waterfall in Akureyri. In the north, they experienced 24 hours of light.
What: Iceland Naturally exhibit opening
When: 5 to 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 3
Where: Pine Moon Fine Art, 117 Ninth St.
Iceland’s population is about 340,000 over its 40,000 square miles — Europe’s least densely populated country.
“The sense of isolation in the northern part was interesting,” Smith said. “That impression is what I wanted to portray in my art.”
“I think all three of us felt very open and free. There’s not a lot of commercialization there, so you just kind of melt into the landscape,” Jensen said.
“I was awestruck the whole time,” Poltorak said. “You go around one corner, and you say, ‘Oh my gosh,’ and then you go around another corner, and it’s ‘Oh my gosh,’ again.”
They came across caribou and sheep; they explored the Langanes Stóri-Karl Gannet Colony of large white seabirds and the puffins of Borgarfjördur Eystri. In Egilsstadir, they had snowfall. In Skaftafell National Park, on the penultimate day of their journey, they drove on the Ring Road — the more common way of circumnavigating Iceland — for the first time. They checked out Jökulsárlón, a glacier lagoon bulging with icebergs.
When they weren’t outdoors, they sought out museums. They found a church in nearly every valley they passed through, and they ate at gas station restaurants, which were more delicious than anyone would have guessed.
“We fit everyone’s desires in, which was easier because, luckily, all three of us wanted to see the same things,” Poltorak said.
All three focused on taking photographs of the landscapes and animals they encountered. For Jensen, a photographer, her shots were her end goal, but for Poltarak, a graphite artist, and Smith, an oil painter and printmaker, their photographs would go on to serve as models for their sketches and paintings.
“As a photographer, I usually like to be on my own, so I can take as much time as I need,” Jensen said. “But in Iceland, being with other artists lent itself to the feeling of freedom. Nobody rushed anyone, and everyone understood we had our own process and honored that.”
Somewhere along the route, which was around 1,000 miles long, the three decided to host an art show at Pine Moon Fine Art gallery in Steamboat, where all three display work individually.
Upon returning to Colorado, Smith worked on oil painting her pieces, Poltorak sketched with graphite, and Jensen printed her photographs. Each artist worked independently to create the images she wanted to share without delegation of subject matter or location.
“We all just showed our own vision of our trip,” Jensen said.
So the artists weren’t completely sure how the pieces would work together until they hung the art at Pine Moon.
“It’s amazing how well everything fit together, down to the framing,” Poltorak said. “I’m really proud of it.”
“It all fits together like a beautiful little puzzle,” Jensen said.
From 5 to 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 3, the three artists will officially present their Iceland Naturally exhibit to the world during First Friday Art Walk at Pine Moon. The exhibit will remain on display at gallery for the month of January.
Julia Ben-Asher is a contributing writer for Steamboat Pilot & Today.
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