The last two centuries, in particular, witnessed the final great explorations of the surface of the planet by scientists, geographers, and surveyors. In those pre-photography days, and for a while after, artists were an integral part of any expedition. Often these artists were also trained naturalists, or even doctors, performing double-duty as members of the team. Artists could render what words could not, and the men who funded these expeditions understood that the public responded with great interest to the expeditionary plein air sketches and the large studio paintings created from them.
|Golden Gate, Yellowstone National Park by Thomas Moran, 1893, oil on canvas.|
Although their goal may have been to drive interest in opening lands for development, in some cases that goal was undermined by an unforeseen public reaction. It is an undisputed reality that the paintings of Thomas Moran from the Hayden Geologic Survey are in large part responsible for the establishment by President Grant of the first National Park, Yellowstone. The works of Albert Bierstadt helped to further similar movements in establishing National Parks in the Rocky Mountains and Yosemite.
|Western Kansas by Albert Bierstadt, 1875, oil on canvas.|
Is there any place today for the artist-explorer? While there may not be new lands to truly "discover," there are plenty of remote and unfamiliar landscapes for artists to explore. The objective remains the same: art can transform our concept of place. Artists like Tony Foster and Maria Coryell-Martin are modern-day versions of those well-known explorers of old. They seek out the exotic and unusual, sometimes severe, environments to document in their work. Many of these hard-to-reach places are rapidly disappearing due to climate change. This is where Ms. Coryell-Martin's efforts and focus lie. She often works in the arctic environment and believes that her sketches and paintings help to preserve the spirit of those places and the wildlife which lives in them.
Be sure to join us on The Artist's Road for more interesting and informative articles such as: The Power of the Sketchbook, Part II: Expeditionary Art. In it we do our own survey of the contributions and work of some of the great explorer-artists of the past.
–John & Ann