An island off Iceland: Hrísey in June.

Poppets, lovelies and dear ones,

Before my move to Hrísey, I made a quick road trip with Cara; this included a couple of pool visits, an overnight stop in Akureyri and a visit to the folk museum. The folk museum was somewhere, like the Library of Water, that had been on the list and I was so very glad to have had the chance to visit. Really well curated spaces and some wonderfully inspired outsider art. I recommend to anybody visiting the north. I’m really looking forward to a repeat visit!

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And so June began with one very special event that I had promised myself from the moment I decided to come to Iceland. I have always always wanted to see whales. And whilst in Iceland on every road trip and looking out to every fjord or ocean I have longing looked. Cara and I set out from Akureyri (01.06.17), trying to maintain low expectations. After all, being nature and very much like the northern lights- if you’re meant to see them you will.

The weather was terrible, and as we approached Dalvík I wondered if this was a terrible idea worrying about the (un)steadiness of my sea legs. Arctic Sea Tours provided necessary overalls and ponchos, and off we went on a beautiful wooden boat with everything crossed. We travelled out to Eyjafjörður along the west side of Hrísey, my first chance to properly see the island, and after ten minutes we spotted something hopeful. A spout in the distanceAnd all unsteadiness and nausea disappeared. Everyone on the boat was silent and in awe as we approached our first whale.

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Photo courtesy of Cara Levine
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Photo courtesy of Cara Levine

Huge and powerful- the noise as it blew, and the grace as it dived giving us an incredible view of its fluke. Like so many times in this country, I was not prepared for the emotion of the moment.

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Photo courtesy of Cara Levine

During our three hour trip we were lucky enough to see four humpbacks and one rather shy minke. The humpacks, espceicaly the two travelling together seemed positively curious and playfully circled our boat. At one point they came so close I could see their faces under the water. It really was one of the most magical days of my life. I will truly never forget it- and no one can tell me it was a rock this time!

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Back on dry land and with a heart full of whales, Cara and I had one last meal and a soak at the pool in Ólafsfjörður before it was time to say goodbye. I was glad to have had the 24 hour transitional trip before heading to the next residency, as originally I had planned to go straight there from the Factory. Suddenly I was questioning whether this had been a good idea…after such an amazing four months and finding a home in the east I just wasn’t sure I wanted to be on a different residency straight away…

I met Linda on the ferry, the person who keeps an eye on the Old School Arthouse residency. It was a beautiful evening but I was rather nervous as we approached the island. Linda showed me to my new home and pointed out the sights along the way, including her restaurant. I hadn’t expected to see cars on the island so was a little surprised even though there were only a few- but I was even more surprised by the amount of tractors parked outside the houses! This appeared to be the preferably way to get around. The island is only 7 km long by 2.5 km wide, and has one little village. Half of the island is privately owned, and that land has been given over as a nature reserve. It really is a haven- as hunting on the island is strictly prohibited.

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Entering The Old school Art house really did feel like going back to school. Classrooms acts as studio, the corridor is flanked by beautiful old satchels, the kitchen/living area has a blackboard  and every room had a scholastic feeling. I felt warmth and cosiness- another special environment to work and live in- conducive to creativity. And entirely different from the Factory.

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I met my housemates- the artists, Matt and J. Pierre, as well as the J.Pierre’s finance Danielle who would also be staying. All from the States- north and south, Matt from Kenneticut and J.Pierre and Danielle from New Orleans. We had one more unknown artist joining but for now this was the gang.

In the next few days I experienced incredible southern hospitality and warmth. J.Pierre really is an exceptional cook. And – as once again, on a tiny isolated island, I was treated to unexpected cuisine- this time cajan and creole spiced meats and fish, and delicious red beans. Who’d have thought I’d be eating the world on this trip!

We spent the first few days getting to know each other and the island, and were then joined by Sue, from New Zealand on Sunday (04.06.17).

In all honesty the first week was difficult. I found the transition difficult and felt homesick for home, and homesick for the Factory. Working and living in the same space felt distracting. I became concerned that I was fatigued in my work. And I just couldn’t settled. Then I got sick. So my first ten days on the island were a little disappointing. And I was upset with myself that I wasn’t able to make the most of this experience…

However, once I felt better, I went for a hike. This felt like the first time I really engaged with the island- and I fell in love. As I walked in glorious sunshine, and meditated on the islands energy zone I really appreciated my surroundings and suddenly felt myself again.

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The next few weeks were something of a blur, of work, food, hikes, and enjoying the amazing pool (the best I’ve been to on Iceland- it’s worth taking a trip to the island just for the pool- and apparently sometimes you can even see whales from the hot tub!). We were given the opportunity to put on a show in the 100 year old old community centre Sæborg, so all focus shifted to drawing and pulling something together. The community really supported us in this and I came to realise what a wonderful and special place Hrísey is.

I wish I had a before photo to show- because between us we turned the hall from a jumble sale to a really amazing gallery space. I had the usual fretting whilst getting everything up- and I was pretty anxious that I didn’t have a spirit level! However after 3 days work I was happy with my space and we really pulled the whole show together. Sue and I catered the opening (genuinely think that might be my sideline!) and we were amazed to get over 100 visitors- not bad on an island with a population of around 150! Our numbers were bolstered by a visiting liner- but still- pretty good! The community were wonderful and really seemed to enjoy the show. And I really loved having a chance, not only to show what I had done- but to really engage with people. It felt like a really fantastic way to end my residency time.

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Once the show wound down I decided with five days to go that it was time to wind down work. I had an incredible hike with Sue to the lighthouse and we obtained permission to go on the private land. I was astonished by the amount of trees. In Iceland there is a joke- what do you do if you get lost in a forrest? Stand up! But here was like nowhere else I’d been. Established tall trees of many varieties covered the north end of the island. Sue had met the people who owned the land and told me all about how the family had planted 75,000 trees on the island.  We also saw  such a huge variety of birdlife. Brazen (and slightly threatening- think Hitchcock’s “The Birds”) Arctic Terns, beautiful black tailed godwits (who came to be my favourites), snipes and tiny ptarmigan chicks following their protective mother down the road. Worth the hike, we were met with spectacular views at the end of the island, able to see water round the entirety of the land, and I felt really able to appreciate our position within the fjord. Hrísey- the pearl of Eyjafjörður.

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It once again felt like time to pack up. But not before one last very special evening. Ingimar from the shark museum had invited us over for dinner with his family. He had gone especially to Akureyri to get some very special horse meat- and he and his lovely wife Jónína prepared a wonderful feast. Once again I pushed thoughts of Beauty, Ginger and Merrylegs to the back of my mind. And I cannot lie- it was absolutely delicious. Ingimar regaled us with tales of his youth- of stolen eggs and fireworks, and how he and Jónína met. The whole family were an absolute joy to be around and I felt so privileged that they had invited us in. We topped off the meal with beautiful chocolate and caramel desserts that Jónína, before tucking in to some dried fish which I said the other artists HAD to try. Uncertain at first, J.Pierre seemed very taken with it after a couple of pieces! With butter of course- it is always better with butter!

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We then were taken for the most incredible midnight hike. The colours were incredible and we watched birds, smelled the Birki plants- which Jónína told us was the smell of summer- and just enjoyed one last night on this very special little island.

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Once again I was overwhelmed by the kindness and warmth of wonderful people and didn’t want to leave. As Sue and I left the island early the next morning (on about 2 hours sleep), were waved off by a porpoise on the ferry ride and got a lift to Akureryi with Linda’s husband Omar. I once again felt so very lucky for the experiences I have had in this magical land.

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I said a temporary goodbye to Sue as she was taking the bus and I was flying, but we were meeting up later on in Reykjavik for one last dinner. I spent the morning in Akureryi before saying another temporary goodbye- this time to a town that I knew I would come back to. And I waved to Hrísey, spotting it one last time before we ascended into the clouds.

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On a roll, three blogs down- one small one to go.

Much love and TTFN,

Kimi xxx

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