Sarah Barnard

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We are pleased to introduce Sarah Barnard, who opens our new column. Her beautiful drawings and stories take us to the frosty polar regions and fill the pages of our magazine with the spirit of discovery and adventure…

Sarah Barnard is a professional polar artist with experience in ocean exploration and marine biology. She has been a full-time artist since 2015. She works in pencil, watercolor, acrylic, airbrush, ink and pastel, and also enjoys sculpture. Sarah Barnard’s art education has been varied and, instead of a traditional art education, she has prioritized gaining hands-on experience in the polar expedition sector to add a solid base of interest and knowledge of the subject matter underlying the artwork she creates.

She had a passion for polar research and history for many years, Sarah attended school near the Scott Institute of Polar Research in Cambridge. In March 2022, she took part in the preparation of the polar expedition in Finse, Norway, and in October 2022 she worked as an artist in the residence of the expedition beyond the Arctic Circle aboard the Antigua ship in Svalbard. Sarah studied fine arts at Cambridge, marine biology at Newquay and ocean exploration at Plymouth. She worked with the Explorers Club and created illustrations for several polar expeditions.

Sarah Barnard :

“It’s mid October and Svalbard’s polar twilight is fast catching up with us. We make an intriguing sight: 29 artists, musicians, poets all dragging our luggage along the gangway towards the barquentine tall ship Antigua docked at Longyearbyen harbour. This is the latest in the year that the Arctic Circle Expedition residency has ever set sail from the small mining town, delayed by the Covid19 pandemic. Our suitcases and kitbags are quickly stowed by a friendly and professional crew, into our tiny cabins which are shared between two people. We are about to embark on a two-week voyage around the coast of the Svalbard Archipelago, reaching the world’s northernmost community of Ny Ålesund at 78° North.

I excitedly count myself among the artists on this adventure. I am finally about to realise a dream I’ve had for almost 25 years, and one that my career is based around. I am an artist and illustrator specialising in all things polar – environments, history, exploration. I’ve worked with the Explorer’s Club Great Britain and Ireland Chapter and recently had an exhibition at the RRS Discovery (Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s first Antarctic expedition ship) in Dundee, Scotland. I’ve taken part in polar expedition training in Finse, Norway (sometimes called ‘Antarctica in miniature’ thanks to its history as a training ground for Amundsen, Shackleton and Scott in the early 1900s), but until October 2022, I hadn’t truly experienced the Arctic.

We crept quietly to our bunks, exhausted and excited, some sleep fitfully thanks to the unfamiliar engine noise, our captain navigating the way to our first anchorage. We wake up to one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen – pink orange sunlight illuminates snow-covered mountain tops, above a bright blue glacier. Ice pops and jostles around the ship, only audible in the complete, almost sterile, stillness. My first thought is that if there is a heaven, this is what it would feel like. Later we set out on our first landing by Zodiac and are able to walk around on land, some recording sound, others taking photographs or sketching, and others – like me – just trying to take it all in. This is the routine of the rest of our expedition: daily landings, all while watched over by our fearless guides (all expeditions outside Longyearbyen town limits must have a guide trained in rifle handling in case a polar bear makes an appearance).

Around 5 days before our adventure comes to an end, the sun goes down for the last time. The result of this polar twilight is a strange, almost dreamlike feel. There is also a strong sense that we are intruding on what should be a hushed, secret time this far North. By the end of our voyage we have seen the glaciers calve, starting with a rumbling from deep within the ice, huge fragments fracturing off, sending waves through the fjord and birds escaping to safer roosts, and have been shown how far the ice has receded in a terrifyingly short number of years. We are left with a strong awareness of the precarious future of these environments and the need to protect them.

This was an important factor when planning my most recent exhibition project – called ‘Out of Sight // Out of Mind’, which is a collection of portraits of polar explorers and scientists with their eyes closed. The polar regions are for many of us ‘out of sight, out of mind’, and this is my way of trying to raise awareness of what is happening to them, having now seen it with my own eyes. My future projects will hopefully follow this theme, and I hope to travel south to Antarctica next year to continue this work.”

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