In 1897, the Swedish explorer Salomon August Andrée and two companions attempted to travel over the North Pole by hot air balloon. They never made it. In fact, two days after taking off from Norway, they crashed onto Arctic ice, where they faced inevitable death. Their hot air balloon, and what was left of themselves and their camp, weren't discovered for another 30 years.
It's a fascinating, but also horrifying, tale, and one that speaks largely to the allure of the North Pole at the time -- an attraction that cost many men their lives. Liz Ward understands this appeal. The Texas artist is captivated by the North and the histories captured in its ice cores, which provide the subject matter of her new watercolors and silverpoint drawings currently up at Moody Gallery.
The exhibition is titled "Cryosphere," which means the surface of earth where water is a solid form, such as glaciers, as well as ice caps, ice sheets, sea ice and permafrost. In light watercolors and silverpoint, Ward depicts the memories of the cryosphere -- the ice cores. Like the rings in tree trunks, they are samples of accumulations of snow and ice that record climate conditions over thousands of years, and Ward depicts them in delicately yet meticulously rendered drawings.
Given its age, Arctic ice has unfathomable history and depth, and Ward's watercolors seem chock full of both, especially in her large-scale watercolors. In torrents of gorgeously vivid blues, reds, yellows and more blues, she manages to capture an inherent, raw energy, all the more aided by the subtle sparkle of the mica in her watercolors. And in an urgent nod to global warming, these passages not only speak to the age of her subjects, but also to the fact that they're slowly but surely melting.
In addition to these large-scale works, which the artist calls "glacial ghosts" in a further reference to climate change, Ward has two watercolor pieces positioned directly across from each other in the gallery titled "Ice Balloon." They're minutely detailed blue circles that directly reference Andrée's doomed expedition. Even if you didn't know the morbid history, you couldn't look at these icy blue watercolors and not shiver.
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"Liz Ward: Cryosphere" at Moody Gallery, 2815 Colquitt Street, runs now through November 21. For more information, call 713-526-9911 or visit www.moodygallery.com.