In this weekly post, I collect all the need-to-read arctic related things that I’ve found over the past several days, and put them here in a handy bundle of links for you to pick, click and read.
In this weekly post, I collect all the need-to-read arctic related things that I’ve found over the past several days, and put them here in a handy bundle of links for you to pick, click and read.
The best types of Instagram accounts are the ones that leave you feeling better for encountering them. That leave you feeling as though, actually, life is good, and there are decent people out there doing brilliant things. One such precious account is that of Italian artist Alessia Brusco AKA Skogens Rymd.
Although she’s an expat in Sweden, Alessia illustrates the north as though she’s never spent a day away from the deep woods and wide skies.
MostNorthern caught up with Alessia to get to know the woman behind the art. We talk about her career as an artist, her infatuation for the aurora borealis, and her experience taking Scandinavian Studies.
Hello Alessia! Would you mind telling MostNorthern’s readers a little bit about yourself, where you’re from and where you’re based at the moment?
Hey Katie and thanks a lot for your appreciation and your questions! I was born in north-west Italy, in a region between sea and mountains called Liguria. I lived there all my life and studied at the University in Genova.
It’s two years now I’ve been living with my boyfriend, Martin, in Skåne, southern Sweden, in a small village in the middle of a beautiful countryside landscape.
When I first saw your art on Instagram, it was obsession at first sight. I was gobsmacked when I found out you’re entirely self-taught. When and why did you first start to create art inspired by the north, and how long were you painting before you decided to share it with the world?
Yes, I’m self-taught and I’ve always liked to draw: when I was a little girl, I enjoyed to reproduce Disney´s characters and to draw clothes! When I was 14 and I had to decide for the high school, unlucky the art school was too far from were I lived and I chose to go to a school were I studied Latin, Greek, History, Literature and so on. I left my passion for art but sometimes I kept on drawing small things, like copying black metal bands´logos or covers.
I started to paint on Christmas´eve 2015 being home alone with my mom. I didn’t have nothing else to do and the day before I bought two canvas and some colours just for fun. I’ve always liked the north and I had already travelled there before.
I think I showed my first paintings just some weeks after I did them, receiving at once a very good response, not expected and super appreciated!
Can you tell us about the meaning behind Skogens Rymd?
This name has a double meaning: literally means ”the space of the forest.” It was actually my boyfriend to create the name for me and it suits perfectly: it refers to the connection between earth and woods with the night sky and cosmos, but it’s also thought to be the actual room covered by woods and nature.
I can really feel, through your paintings and the way that you talk about Scandinavia, the love affair that you have with this part of the world. When did this passion first start to develop and how did you feed it? Did you always know that you would end up living in the north?
I think that it really started when around 12 years old I discovered Tolkien´s universe. Soon after it I started to read about Nordic mythology, fairytales (also from other places in Europe) and began to study a little of Norwegian language by myself, using lyrics from my favourite songs.
I could not imagine to actually live here but I think I’ve always wished for it.
You have this inspiring infatuation with the aurora borealis. What draws you to this phenomenon? Have you had the chance to experience it in real life?
Unluckily I’ve never seen an aurora in real life but I feel very fascinated by it and have been since I was little. I think it´s so elegant, majestic and mystical. I really would like to experience it not only for the visual part but also for the sounds they say you can hear!
How long does it tend to take to finish an art piece? Do you work on multiple pieces at the same time?
I’m not able to work on more pieces at the same time even if it happened that I stopped a work and took it again after some days, but it happens only for commissions. When I paint something from my own mind, I usually want and need to finish it the same evening I start. I usually work on evenings or nights and I can go on until 4 or 5 in the morning just to finish. But usually for small pieces it takes only 1 or 2 hours to be done, but still it takes a lot of energy for me.
How would you describe your ideal working environment? Do you listen to music or prefer silence? Do you need daylight to create, or do you choose to work at night?
I like darkness to paint. Even when I studied, I preferred to do it in the evening or night, I can´t concentrate during the day. It can differ about music or silence: I can paint with my favorite music, a movie, a series or a TV program from the PC or just sitting and listening to my boyfriend playing video games, alone or with his friends.
I’m not bothered by other people speaking but I want to have my physical space on a big table in the living room or sometimes in the kitchen. Nowadays I got a hamster and his cage is on the table with me (and the dog at my feet).
On your website, you talk of having taken Scandinavian Studies in Italy. I’m intrigued about what aspects of Scandinavian culture your studies were focused on. Could you talk a little about your experience and what you got from it?
After I graduated in Medieval Literature and History in Genova, I really wanted to start a new degree in Scandinavian Studies so, under almost three years, I took classes in Swedish language and Scandinavian Literatures reading the translations of Swedish, Norwegian, Icelandic and Danish literary works. Moreover we studied the history and culture of those countries.
I surely got a lot of info from my classes but of course the most about Swedish language, I’ve learnt living here.
You’re extremely well read when it comes to Swedish folklore and fairytales and if you were to recommend a folk tale/fairytale, which one would it be?
Something from the collection of Hyltén-Cavallius.
One of your series of paintings is inspired by Swedish folkloric creatures. Which creature would you say intrigues you the most?
I think it´s Älvorna, the fairies who dance in the mist. When there´s fog on the meadows it is said that ”the fairies are dancing.” I love the concept and I find it very suitable for my art.
One of the series of my paintings it´s called De Underjordiske, and it refers to small creatures, sometimes identified also as trolls, who live in the underground and they are invisible to the humans. Sometimes, at dusk, once can see a light on the hills, and that means that they left a door open. I like this concept so much as well.
What’s the furthest north you’ve ever been, and is there anywhere on your bucket list that you’re aching to visit?
I think the furthest north have been in Dalarna (Dalecarlia, Sweden) and somewhere south of Bergen in Norway. I really would like to visit Norrland and Iceland but also Siberia, speaking only about northern countries.
You have over 8,000 followers on Instagram. How does it feel that so many people are drawn to your art, and do you find that your interaction with followers helps motivate you to create more?
I really think it´s amazing that so many nice and kind people like my art. I could not imagine it and I feel grateful every time I think about it. When I read all your comments then, I really go super happy and many times this has given me the strength to keep on in what I´m doing!
Swedish artist John Bauer is one of your biggest artistic inspirations. How did you first discover his art and what are some of your favourite Bauer pieces?
I discovered his art randomly on the web: the first piece I saw what Tuvstarr riding the moose in the moonlight. It was love at first sight but I could not find anything in Italy about him.
I bought a book when I finally traveled to Sweden some years after and now I´m actually working on the translation of the fairytales illustrated by him in the beginning of 1900. The book is going to have an introduction about the artist, his life and style and so on to be able to give the Italian public an idea of his wonderful art and works.
I think that my favourite works include paintings from Tuvstarr, Svanhamnen and När trollmor skötte kungens storbyk.
Norwegian artist Theodore Kittelsen is another of your muses. How did you first encounter his work? Do you have some favourite pieces of his that you would care to share?
Yes, he absolutely is! I discovered him much before Bauer, always on the web and thanks to metal music. I love everything from him but now, if I’m going to pick one is the jumping squirrels from a snowy tree. Of course all the trolls and the creatures and the drawing with the moose are favourites as well!
As well as taking inspiration from the work of Bauer and Kittelsen, it appears you also find inspiration from music, in particular the Norwegian band Ulver. I’d love to know more about the series of paintings inspired by their album Bergtatt.
Bergtatt is my favourite albums of all times, I never go tired to listen to it and it gives me always the same fantastic feelings.
My series of paintings Blandt disse mørcke Graner is meant to be in honour of Ulver´s first works, a way to ”thank them” for the inspiration they gave me.
You’ve had the opportunity to collaborate with a number of bands. How has this experience been? Is there any band or fellow creatives you would love to work with in the future?
It has been unexpected and fantastic! And thank to it, I had the opportunity to know more bands and talented musical artists!
I´m very happy with my collaborations but if I have to dream, I would like to make a cover for the band Otyg.
Are you a full-time artist or do you need to hold down another job to put bread on the table?
I work some small jobs to be able to earn more: for example I take dogs for walks and recently I worked for some months for a dog breeder taking care of the puppies and their mums. One of the best experience of my life that I will do again in some months.
In your opinion, what draws people to the north?
The idea of wilderness, the connection to some kind of spirituality and the wonderful mythology.
Do you have any favourite influencers inspired by the north that you would like to tell us about?
I´m not very inspired by nowadays stuff, I don’t follow any trends (maybe I did when I was younger but not anymore) so I don´t actually know. I mostly like past things, cultures and art.
Can you reveal what you have lined up in the coming months?
Of course! Soon, in august, I will have an exhibition here in Skåne where I will show some of my watercolours. At the end of October I will be in Stockholm for a three days exhibition and there will be other shows next year.
I hope to have time and energy to work on bigger pieces.
Finally, in three words what does ‘North’ mean for you?
Nature, Thule, Freedom.
Find & Follow
It was entirely by accident that I was introduced to Naku Naku, an ancient Finnish lullaby performed by the Finnish folk musician Merja Soria and her kantele (Finnish folk harp). Sometimes YouTube can get it so right that it almost makes up for all the adverts they inflict upon us.
I’ve been playing the track for baby bump for the past three mornings…I find it settles the restless one right down. (It might have something to do with the little bit of Finnish blood in him/her.)
Soria used to sing Naku Naku for her daughter when she was going to sleep, and her grandmother sang it to her before that.
I recorded this video last Christmas as a gift to my daughter. I wanted her to have something that would connect her to the generations of strong Finnish women that came before us.
Naku Naku was Soria’s first recording after many years of silence…and I just hope with all hope that her YouTube channel becomes a hive of musical activity, because the north and the wider worlds needs this woman, her voice and her kantele.
– Katie / Your eyes in the north.
The other day I was (sadly) complaining about a book I’d bought and read recently called Scandinavians by Robert Ferguson.
I rarely buy myself to a brand new book, but I was so absolutely sure that Ferguson was going to offer me 455 pages of potentially award winning literature, that I shelled out the £12 it cost on Amazon – it’s very newly published – believing it would be one of the best investments of 2018. (I’d previously really enjoyed his book The Hammer & The Cross : A New History Of The Vikings.)
One of the best investments it was not, and I was so disappointed I almost cried when I was done reading it.
Let it be known that I really hate it when I have to complain about a book, and if I don’t enjoy something, it’s not often that anyone else knows about it. There’s enough negative energy surging through the internet as it is without me ranting about every book I haven’t enjoyed.
However, something GOOD actually came from my bad experience with Scandinavians. My dissatisfaction led me make a post about it on Facebook, which led to a friend suggesting I make a blog post about my 10 favourite books about the far north, which then led to this post.
Every book listed here has deeply enhanced my knowledge, understanding and love of the north…and if any of them have touched you in a profound way, please comment and let me know!
I’m also interested in any suggested reading you have for me. Oh, and a final thing, if Viking history is your passion, do check out The Hammer & The Cross. Ferguson got it very right with this one.
Arctic Dreams By Barry Lopez
My copy of Arctic Dreams, the award winning study of the Arctic by Barry Lopez (also the author of the outstanding book Of Wolves & Men) has been re-read so many times the pages have shed their whiteness, and have taken on that comforting softness that loved books adopt.
Practically each page has at least two of three paragraphs underlined or highlighted, and it still holds Post-It-Notes from several years ago.
Using just the most sublime prose, Lopez honours the Arctic, its history and landscape, its people, flora and fauna. He examines our deep fascination with the Arctic and why we find such a hostile environment so inviting.
One of my favourite of the nine chapters, though it is SO hard to choose, is Tornarssuk, a wedge dedicated to history, present and future of Ursus maritiumus aka the wandering king of the polar north.
This Cold Heaven By Gretal Ehrlich
One of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life was to invest in the writing of the goddess of the cold, Gretel Ehrlich.
Dedicated to ‘those who travel the path of ice,’ This Cold Heaven has everything you could hope to find in a book about the landscape, history and peoples of Greenland. I don’t actually have the strength to count how many Post-It-Notes I’ve crammed into it over the years.
In this spectacular work, Ehrlich provides an intensive, addictive narrative of her personal experiences travelling across Greenland (the largest island on earth, with all but 5% covered by a vast ice sheet) and her personal encounters with the Greenlandic Inuit.
It’s a book so wonderfully dense with wisdom that it’s virtually impossible to take in everything on the first read. You must return to it time and again to fully experience the ‘realm of the great dark, of ice pavilions, polar bears and Eskimo nomads.’
Dark Matter By Michelle Paver
It was a happy accident that I encountered the novel Dark Matter by Michelle Paver in the library a few years ago.
Unlike her previous books for children, which I wasn’t too fond of, Dark Matter is unputdownable. I think I finished it in a night and was left gagging for more. It’s one of the best ghost stories I have ever read and I’m not exaggerating.
The story takes place in 1937. 28 year old Jack lost, lonely and poor, so when offered the opportunity to join an Arctic expedition, he leaps at the chance.
However once him and his team arrive at the uninhabited bay where they’re supposed to spend the next year, Jack begins to feel uneasy, and one by one, his companions start to leave…
The Magnetic North By Sara Wheeler
It was on one of my expeditions to Amazon that I found The Magnetic North by Sara Wheeler.
While her prose isn’t, I don’t think, as intense as Lopez or Ehrlich (and I favor intense) this volume about Wheeler’s travels through the Arctic is powerful, thought-provoking and, at times, immensely poetic.
The variety covered in The Magnetic North is one of the things that’s makes it so readable, and by the end I was hugely envious of everything Wheeler had the opportunity to experience. I was particularly jealous of her time spent herding reindeer across the tundra with Lapps.
Magnetic North is a book which will make you think and think hard about the good, the bad and the ugly aspects of the Arctic. One of the ugly aspects that shook me the worst was reading about the bioaccumulated toxins in polar bears.
The Arctic : An Anthology Edited By Elizabeth Kolbert
In England, our best known bookstore is called Waterstones. It’s also the most expensive, and I could very rarely buy anything from there, unless I was in possession of a holy gift card.
At £8.99 The Arctic : An Anthology was one of the only things I could splurge on. But how it was worth it! It’s a close to perfect blend of writing about the science, nature, history, peoples and stories of the Arctic.
Published by Granta (one of my favourite publishers) The Arctic is an extraordinarily insightful read – though it’s FAR too short – featuring essential writings on our most precious polar region and its future.
Naturally Lopez and Ehrlich are in there, but there’s also works from the likes of Jack London, Rockwell Kent, Fridtjof Nansen and Knud Rasmussen.
The Almost Nearly Perfect People By Michael Booth
While finding really good books written about the Arctic isn’t that difficult, finding really good books written about Scandinavian culture is, I think, a challenge.
There just aren’t enough books getting published that are really sold reads. (Though I hope to change this in the near future.)
The Almost Nearly Perfect People however, is EXCELLENT. Instead of relying on the accounts of others, Michael Booth explores the cultures of Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Iceland using his own eyes and experiences.
He’s a funny, insightful and intelligent writer who, while highlighting the great things about living in the north, brings it to our attention that, actually, shit happens in Scandinavia too, and it isn’t all as dreamy as so many of us have been led to believe.
Wild By Jay Griffiths
Wild is one of those books that changed my life. And I don’t say that lightly. I found it at random in the library back in 2008 and after reading the first page, clung to it like it was my life raft.
I ranted and raved to anyone who would listen, about Jay Griffiths enlightening work in which she endeavoured to explore the wildernesses of earth, ice, water and fire.
While it isn’t all about the north – there’s one chapter called Ice which is northerly focused – I thought it essential I mention it here because her experiences and thoughts of the north are so profound, so moving, so aware that she can alter your way of thinking in a heartbeat.
Griffiths is one of the most important nature writers we have. Her ear is forever pressed to the ground.
The Fellowship Of Ghosts By Paul Watkins
I can’t remember if my Dad bought my this or if I did…either way, it was found in Pound Land. Yes. One of my favourite books about the north cost a quid in a bargain shop. Why it was there exactly isn’t something I like to dwell on because this author deserves ALL the readers.
When it first arrived in my hands, I knew it was going to be a winner not only because of it’s spectacular front cover, but because it was published by National Geographic, and National Geographic do not piss about. Everything they publish is of THE highest quality.
The Fellowship Of Ghosts is a compelling narrative about Paul Watkin’s solo trek through the wilds of Norway’s Rondane and Jutunheimen mountains.
His descriptions of the challenging terrain he encounters on his journey is nothing less than spellbinding, and his natural ability to to weave together the connections between the Norwegian landscape and the myths and people found there makes for an exhilarating read.
True North By Gavin Francis
I was fortunate that back in England, my local library had quite the collection of Arctic literature, and among that collection was True North by Gavin Francis.
Although it’s been a few years since I read it, I can remember that I always had a pen and notebook so I could scribble down his impressions of journeying through the Shetland Isles, the Faroes, Iceland, Greenland, Svalbard and on to Lapland. (Envious am I? Naturally.)
True North is an engrossing insight into how the region of the Arctic has adapted to the 21st Century. I learned plenty from this book, and intend on returning to it asap to refresh my knowledge.
Faces Of The North By Ragnar Axelsson
I was first introduced to the work of Icelandic photographer Ragnar Axelsson in 2008 when I was at University and working on a novel about Iceland.
A teacher lent me his copy of Faces Of The North (not without a lecture on how valuable it was first off though, to ensure it was well looked after.)
From the moment I saw the cover (can you taste the salt of the sea on your lips too?) I was happily stolen away from my life in England. Naturally, I didn’t want to give it back to my teacher. The impression it had left was soul deep.
This art book is as perfect as art books come, and through around 100 heart-stirring photographs of Greenland, Iceland and the Faeroe Islands, documents the vanishing lifestyle of the north.
Katie – Your Eyes In The North