ALONG A LONG LINE — PAINTING BEYOND BORDERS
By Mark Rondeau for the Williams College Office of Public Affairs
Published on the college Website, Fall 2007
Artist Michael Glier’s blog recording his adventurous landscape-painting project is called “Along A Long Line.” It could just as accurately be called “Artist Without Borders.”
From June to August he lived and painted in Pangnirtung, Baffin Island, Canada, a small Inuit town on a fjord of Cumberland Sound, just below the Arctic Circle.
On his blog (alongalongline.blogspot.com) Glier posted his paintings of the landscape, photographs of the land and interesting features of the village, and entries describing his life and art in this remote but starkly beautiful location.
“The landscape was nothing like I’d ever seen or experienced before,” Glier said in an interview in Williamstown just before he left to continue his project in Ecuador. “And the weirdest thing is that
there’s no middle scale.” Landscape features on the island are either very large or very small.
“It’s like these vast huge open rolling spaces — and it seems drab and khaki-colored — and then if you look down at the ground, it’s the most amazing ground cover I’ve ever seen, incredibly rich, beautifully colored, thousands of little flowers. But it’s all miniature, tiny,” Glier said. “So it’s got the diversity of a climax forest, only it’s all about six inches tall.”
This resulted in paintings with names such as Waterfall, Pink Granite, Moss, Lichen, High Tundra and Mount Duval. Each painting posted on the blog includes the longitude and latitude where it is located.
Glier, a professor of art at Williams, is on leave this year to work on the art project, called Longitude, in which he is painting in locations roughly along the 70th line of longitude in the Western Hemisphere from the arctic to the equator.
He is continuing his art and his blog in October from Jatun Sacha, Ecuador, an ecological preserve. This rain forest shelters one of the world’s most diverse collections of plant, animal, and insect species. In the winter and early spring of 2008 he will continue at St. John, Virgin Islands.
On St. John is the 14,000 acre Virgin Islands National Park, which has been designated by the United Nations as a part of the biosphere reserve network.
A very different landscape will conclude the project in the late spring of 2008, when he will paint and blog about the landscape of New York City.
Glier sees this project as more than art for art’s sake. A major reason he launched it “is an interest in being in the landscape, responding to the landscape, and trying to take a somewhat urgent and political position.
“We’re in something of an ecological crisis these days, and I’m not a scientist, I can’t make a tangible change in the way we use our energy or whatever, but I can as an artist just try to develop a voice in our culture and call attention to things,” he said. “One of things I want to call attention to is the importance of being responsive to the land and also to start thinking about the earth as a shared space rather than something that’s divided up by geopolitical boundaries.
“And that’s why I’m following this long line that goes across many different ecological zones as well as many different political zones,” he added.
Two other projects are related to this concept. The first is Latitude, staying in one place long enough to see the change of seasons. Two sets are done: Latitude, Williamstown and Latitude, Hoosick, New York.
The final part will be called Antipodes. “I want to go to points that are opposite on the globe, like Rome is opposite Chatham Island, New Zealand, which is a tiny Island with 300 people and 50, 000 sheep and
China is opposite Argentina,” he said. He has not yet chosen where to go.
He explains on his blog: “In the most general terms this tri-part painting project is an attempt to describe the uniqueness of the local while maintaining a global perspective.”
He eventually would like to show the paintings of all three projects at once.
Keeping the blog has been fun and has opened up new avenues of expression for Glier. A friend had encouraged him to keep one on his trip.
“I was sort of reluctant at first, but now it’s been such a great way for me to record what I’m doing, and I wouldn’t sit down every week and do it unless I had this project,” he said. “It’s also been a really nice way to keep in touch with friends and even people I don’t know very well.”
He is a slow and careful writer, and it shows in the vividness of his prose.
“I spend a day writing a couple of paragraphs, and I try to search for just the right adjective, and then I try to take out as many words as I can and still keep the meaning intact,” Glier said. “I spent a lot of time photographing, too. I’ve always taken a lot of pictures, but I’ve never done much with them before. So this was my chance to actually publish some of my photography.”
The three together add up to a fuller form of artistic expression.
“I like this aesthetic where your life is a work of art, not just the object. And so the writing, the photography, the communication with friends, and the painting — I see all as one project, not separate,” he said. “And it would be nice if the blog turned into a book. I’d love that.”
“I think that between the three — the writing and the photos and the painting — that I’m giving a fuller idea what the landscape was like,” he said.