A powerful advocate for the environment, a guardian of cultural heritage and a catalyst for change, all describe ‘Polar Art’ to me. When someone captures the stark beauty and profound significance of the Artic and Antarctic regions, it’s not just an artistic endeavour.

May seems to be the month for ‘Art Trails and ‘Open Studio’s’ across the UK and I reconnected with a fellow shipmate from our trip to South Georgia and Antarctica, Polar Artist Helen Young, at her Open Studio event as part of the Oxfordshire Art Weeks.

Come with me as I recount the experience of what I can only describe as a quintessential British garden party but with substance, in the depths of stunning countryside that is Oxfordshire.

List to my audio introduction above

The polar regions are experiencing some of the most dramatic effects of climate change. Artists who work in these environments document the transformations taking place – melting ice, shifting wildlife patterns, and the altering landscapes – providing a visual record of change that can inspire action. Remember my blog about Polly Townsends ‘Artist In Residence’ experience?

Helen’s paintings are abstract and usually inspired by landscapes but she uses an unusual medium to create her paintings, manipulating the paint to create a sense of curiosity which echoes the curiousness of the subject.

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Why Ice?

Following a Textile Design degree, Helen quickly realised woven textiles was not going to do it for her! Funnily enough though that love of texture and lines is what forms the basis of her paintings today, but I am jumping ahead.

An early love of travel took Helen to Nepal – co-ordinating the trip with a family event in January, it was freezing, snowy! Setting a trend already. Wanting to focus on one ‘thing’ to paint on the trip, the Buddhist prayer flags hung from bridges, trails and peaks high in the Himalayas appealed. Never removed, the disintegrating shreds of these brightly coloured and at that time of the year, frozen, flags coupled with the single colour roofs of the small mountaintop villages on their long walks through the snow is where her relationship with Ice began.

Despite two Art Foundation courses, and a second degree in Fine Art from Oxford Brookes it took a weeks course in Ireland with Rebecca Crowell an American abstract artist know for her creations with oil paint and cold wax for Helen to find the medium she wanted to use to express herself and what she had seen. This new method works with a silicone squeegee, thank goodness as her newly broken thumb didn’t impinge the successful workshop outcome. After a second painting course in Cardiff with Jerry McLaughlin, Rebecca’s co author of  ‘Cold Wax Medium. Techniques, Concepts and Conversations’, working all day in the studio she felt she had learnt more in those few weeks than her previous 13 years of study.

Open Studio Garden Party

There can’t be anything better than a British garden party when the sun is shining and Helen and her husband Simon were the best of hosts. In her studio’s and spaces in her Oxfordshire home village of Aston Tirrold, Helen’s recent paintings were on display, exhibiting with fellow painters Mandy Reid and Pippa Smith and a jeweller, Giulia Valentini. With The Bagg’s Tree Buskers, delightful canapés, bubbly and the sunshine, it was a perfect event.

Polar Artists Collective

Whatever you paint, you find other artists doing similar Helen told me. She is excited to discover other artists whose work is based on the polar regions and to be part of a group founded, just a few months ago, by polar artist and illustrator Sarah Barnard, called the Polar Artists Collective. A worldwide group of 50 artists of varying disciplines, check out their instagram page, there is a lovely online art exhibition currently.

What’s Next?

Helen’s off to the west of Greenland – it’s a different climate to what she has experienced in the east of Greenland, and can’t wait to see the famous Disko Bay icebergs. As well at Antarctica, she has travelled to the Artic Sweden, Norway and Iceland taking her experiences in these places and transferring them to paper or board. She would love to do a residency, hopefully 2026, so she could focus fully on the art for a longer, uninterrupted period of time.

Donating: The stunning and often haunting images created by polar artists can inspire a deep sense of wonder and reverence for these environments. This emotional connection is a powerful motivator for conservation efforts, encouraging people to support policies, practices and charity organisations that protect polar ecosystems. That’s exactly what Helen has done – twice she has donated paintings to the South Georgia Heritage Trust for their auction to raise funds for their conservation work, a true Polar Ambassador.

What Can You the Reader Do?

Polar regions are among the most remote and fragile ecosystems on our planet. Through vivid and evocative depictions, polar art brings these distant places closer to our everyday lives, raising awareness about their beauty and the urgent need to protect them. Supporting the work of the organisations below that are protecting these regions is one action you can take. However small, it will make a difference.

South Georgia Heritage Trust

Scott Polar Research Institute

Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition

Polar Citizen Science Collective

Arctic Ice Project

UK Antarctic Heritage Trust