From November 14, 2009 through January 30, 2010, True North Gallery presents “Navigating by the Stars: Art Inspired by the Night Sky,” a group exhibition featuring the work of Germaine Arnaktauyok, Elizabeth Delgatty, Tallmadge Doyle, Gudrun Benedikta Eliasdottir, Julie Fraenkel, Lynda Goldberg, Allie High, Marc Lisle, Jackie Morris, Peter Olson, Olivia Parker, and Randall Stoltzfus.
“The show offers an intriguing and diverse response to the night sky theme,” explains Belinda Recio, owner of True North Gallery. “Star patterns, astral myths, night migration, light emerging from the darkness—all of these ideas find both archetypal and personal expression in the body of work included in this show.”
Constellation patterns are a recurring motif, appearing in the hand-embellished aquatint etchings of Oregon artist Tallmadge Doyle. “Cassiopeia” and “Celestial Mapping II” reflect Doyle’s alchemical approach to the printmaking process, in which she allows for unexpected transformations, resulting in imagery that feels both spiritual and scientific at the same time.
The concept of transformation also appears in “Two Copperheads,” a digital photograph by renowned Massachusetts’ photographer and digital artist Olivia Parker. In this piece, a pair of biological snakes appears to be shape shifting into the celestial dragon Draco, a constellation in the northern sky. Other classic constellations, such as Scorpio and Orion, are the subject of large ceramic tiles created by Marc Lisle, also from Massachusetts.
For Illinois artist Peter Olson, the constellation motif in his silver ink etching, “Hummingbird Nebula” serves as a reflection of his interest in ornithological night migration. “I have long been fascinated by the reliance on the night sky by birds to
navigate on their long journeys of migration,” explains Olson, the assistant director of the Northern Illinois Art Museum. “What better subject to become a constellation—frozen in the sky as if motionless in the air, hovering before a flower.”
In “Cassiopeia / Ice Study,” by Connecticut artist Julie Fraenkel, a woman lies frozen in the ice under the night sky. A constellation map is layered over the sky, as well as the woman, whose figure embodies the stars that create the constellation Cassiopeia. Fraenkel’s work often addresses the physical embodiment of psychological states, and in this piece, the vastness and timelessness of the night sky is both external and internal.
For others in the show, such as Icelandic artist Gudrun Benedikta Eliasdottir, the night sky theme inspires explorations of light. Eliasdottir’s “Aurora Borealis” is an acrylic
seascape in which the play of auroral light is reflected not only by the sea, but also by a vibrant formation of luminous beach stones.The otherworldly light seems to animate the sea and stones in ways that recall the supernatural legends about the northern lights.
In “I never saw the northern lights 2,” Brooklyn artist Randall Stoltzfus uses raw pigment, pastel, and gold leaf to create a somewhat more abstract play of ghostly auroral color that emerges out of a matrix of darkness. Winnipeg artist Elizabeth Delgatty also explores the northern lights in three monochromatic watercolors. Using only transparency and shades of blue, Delgatty captures the mystery of the aurora and the austere beauty of the winter landscape.
Lynda Goldberg, a Massachusetts artist, focuses on a different kind of celestial light in her monotype “Perseid Meteor Shower Over Gloucester Harbor,” a sensual and vibrant celebration of this astronomical display.
Another response to the night sky theme is one in which artists explore the relationship between night and narrative. “Ulluriat,” an aquatint etching by Inuit artist Germaine Arnaytauyok, illustrates an Inuit star story. Ulluriat is the Inuktitut word for stars, but this piece illustrates the legend associated with the star the Inuit call Nanurjuk, which translates as “having the spirit of a polar bear.” With a limited palette of blue and white, the etching depicts a defiant polar bear holding his ground against a pack of dogs. The bear and dogs appear as images frozen against the night sky in a pattern that represents Nanurjuk’s constellation.
A second Arnaktauyok etching is inspired by an Inuit legend relating to the creation of darkness and light. In “Night and Day,” Arnaktauyok presents the raven, which represents day, with the light of the early sun behind it, and an arctic hare, which represents night, with dark, starry background.
For Allie High, an Alaskan artist whose heritage is Aleut, Haida, and Tsimshian, the night sky also inspires work with a sense of story. In her Northwest Coast formline style serigraph “Evening Star,” an otter sleeps under a glowing star, embraced by a circle of night. In another serigraph, “Wolf Crescent,” a sleeping wolf is curled under a crescent moon.
Jackie Morris, the celebrated Welsh artist and children’s book illustrator, has two watercolors in the show, both depicting mythical hares leaping through the night sky. High’s serigraphs and Morris’s watercolors both evoke associations with ancient stories about animals, dreams, and the magic of night.
(Images: “Cassiopeia” by Tallmade Doyle, “Hummingbird Nebula” by Peter Olson, “Aurora Borealis” by Gudrun Benedikta Eliasdottir, "Night and Day" by Germaine Arnaytauyok, and "Evening Star" by Allie High.)