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New Exhibition by Claire Harkess RSW

August 31st, 2016 by Robin Rodger
Still Light 3am Svalbard, watercolour (c)Claire Harkess

Still Light 3am Svalbard, watercolour (c)Claire Harkess



‘High Arctic’- Solo Exhibition at The Strathearn Gallery

A decade since her hugely successful Antarctic exhibition with The Strathearn Gallery, Perth-based artist Claire Harkess has been drawn back to the polar circle, this time to the North, exploring the Svalbard Archipelago and Greenland.

As one of Scotland’s finest wildlife and watercolour artists, ‘High Arctic’ will be one of her largest solo shows to date, featuring over one hundred works showcasing the beauty and uniqueness of the Arctic.

The exhibition can be viewed on-line at

‘High Arctic’ opens at 11am on 10th September and runs until 9th October 2016.

The Strathearn Gallery, 32 West High Street, Crieff, PH7 4DL


Claire studied from 1988-93 at the Glasgow School of Art, graduating with a BA (Hons) Fine Art (Environmental Art).  She was elected to the Royal Scottish Society of Painters in Watercolour (RSW) in 2005 and has won numerous awards for her work. Claire became an Honorary Member of the Perthshire Art Association in 2005.

She has exhibited world-wide including exhibitions in Singapore, Sydney, New York, Munich and London and has work in Public Collections including The Walter Scott Art Collection, the Royal Scottish Geographical Society and the Perth Museum and Art Gallery.

When Claire is not committed to exhibitions, she travels to source her inspiration for her next body of work.  Claire’s painting has taken her around the world in search of wild and fragile lands – Australia; travelling the Eastern and Central regions, Mexico to follow the migration of the Monarch Butterfly, the Caribbean Islands; Dominica, Barbados, Trinidad and Cuba, South Georgia and Antarctica, the Galapagos Islands, Kenya and now the Arctic.

Working predominantly in watercolour, to know when to paint is good, to know when not to – even better. Echoing the balance and rhythms found in nature, the paintings seek similar harmony. Sometimes it is the emptiness of a page marked by a single brushstroke, others, a slow build-up of repeated layers, put down and scrubbed out, leaving traces and shadows, memory stains of paint and place. Nothing is truly erased: Worn tracks, new marks.

Travelling to Greenland and the Svalbard Archipelago, her watercolours focus on the frozen land and sea and the life that it sustains.

September in Greenland, the days are shortening, the migratory birds have flown. The ochres and russet autumn colours flank the lower slopes of the fjords and yield a short, bountiful harvest of blueberries and crowberries while the upper slopes remain covered in snow. As light fades, the fjords blacken and glaciers take on a dark presence. It is then the polar night comes alive, the aurora dancing yellow and green above.

In contrast, Svalbard at midsummer, is the land of the midnight sun. Svalbard sits high in the Arctic Ocean halfway between Norway and the North Pole. The atmosphere is clear, the light is sharp and the rugged, fragile wilderness sees the return of birds and wildlife to breed- arctic terns, little auks, guillemots, puffins, walrus and arctic fox. The most iconic, of course, the polar bear.

Today the primary threat to the polar bear is loss of habitat and shrinking sea ice. They need the ice as a platform to catch seals. As the ice is melting earlier each year, the polar bear has less time to hunt and gain weight for the fasting summer months.

The starkness of the Arctic- its waters, life and land – sit well with the clarity and transparency unique to watercolour. From almost negligible layers, glazes can be built up like overlapping stained glass. Paint can glide and skate across the paper’s surface or sit in slowly evaporating puddles, pulling the pigment to a dense spot. Never quite knowing what will happen is part of its thrill. Even the unexpected can be embraced and developed.

Ice Bear - Shore, watercolour (c)Claire Harkess

Ice Bear – Shore, watercolour (c)Claire Harkess


Claire also features in an editorial in the Autumn 2016 issue of LIVING Perth and Kinross where she talks about her recent travels to the Svalbard archipelago and reflects on her many travels in search of inspiration for her distinctive paintings.


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