Artist's Statement: I was sniffed out by polar bears on the remote fjords of the Arctic

| 05 November 2013

Artist’s Statement: As the only British man among a group of 26 international artists and writers on a creative trip to the Arctic Circle, Chris Blade left his world of molten glass in Sunderland for “bearable” summer temperatures of -15°C. He returned with photos and inspiration...

A photo of a male artist in a winter coat standing behind a block of ice in the Arctic
Chris Blade, the Head of Commissioning and the Studio at Sunderland's National Glass Centre, made an expedition to the small town of Longyearbyen in Svalbard, Norway© Chris Blade, courtesy National Glass Centre
“I didn’t really know what to expect. Despite however much reading anyone does beforehand, it can only create an impression of the reality.

However, I did know my project was going to be based on my reaction to the landscape and environment. It’s outstandingly beautiful and remote, and I don’t think you realise quite how so until you’re actually there.

We had to be very conscious with the nature around us, and one polar bear did sniff us out, but thankfully we were back on the ship by this point.

It was all an incredible experience – especially the scenery and how, in a few places with a legacy of human habitation, the mining and whaling industries still affect the environment.

For example, in Magdalene fjord, fat spilled onto the ground from the boiling and processing of slaughtered whales 200 years ago now provides nutrients for a brilliant yellow lichen.

It was inspiring to work alongside so many talented and creative artists. We were all doing our own projects, but also interested in what other people wanted to do and new projects and concepts developed as a consequence.

In the UK we’re saturated with images through the media and advertising. Most people have seen images of the Arctic, so have developed preconceptions of what it’s like.

But when you actually get there and see it in front of you then the experiences of seeing, feeling and hearing it hits home at to just how remote, beautiful and hostile the Arctic really is.

We’re surrounded by people all the time and in a world of easy communication with phones, the Internet, satellite TV and more. We have access to all the information and goods we could desire. Then you head to the Arctic Circle and realise that none of that exists any more.

I love the remoteness and harshness of the environment and feeling that I’m away from everything except raw nature. There’s something wonderful about it all.”  

  • A photography exhibition of Chris’s work will be on display at the National Glass Centre in 2014. He is currently working on a series of glass works inspired by the trip. Visit for more.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

More pictures:

A photo of a group of people on a dinghy in the Arctic in front of a large block of ice
The team embarked on a traditionally rigged 160ft tall ship for a three-week trip up the north west side of the archipelago, with polar bears and seals for neighbours© Chris Blade, courtesy National Glass Centre
A photo of a load of rocks on Arctic ice with a sun rising in the background
Blade was one of 26 artists from 14 nationalities selected from an initial 320 applicants of painters, photographers, musicians, poets, writers, composers and videographers© Chris Blade, courtesy National Glass Centre
A photo of a large white polar bear on rocks in the Arctic
Previously known as Spitsbergen, Svalbard has a population of around 2,000 but is rumoured to be home to 3,000 polar bears© Chris Blade, courtesy National Glass Centre
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