Chillin' out

A National Science Foundation artist paints the seventh continent.

TRAVELING TO ANTARCTICA doesn't seem like much of a picnic, but Alaskan painter David Rosenthal, who has journeyed to the icy continent four times, wants to do it again. Staying as long as 16 months during one visit, the National Science Foundation artist has been captivated by Antarctica's otherworldly landscapes and colors.


Frye Art Museum, ends August 6

At a recent slide presentation at the Frye Art Museum, Rosenthal explained his amazement with the unusual colors that the thin, ultra-pure atmosphere and seasons of extended twilight create. (During winter, the sun doesn't rise above the horizon for four months.) "Is that really a green sky, purple ice, and yellow snow? The colors were so unpredictable," he said. Rosenthal's oil paintings, which are stark in their subject matter, are marked with flashes of luminous, sometimes fiery, hues.

Working in an extreme environment of subzero temperatures and high winds, Rosenthal taught himself to draw while wearing heavy mittens. "I used my arm more than my hand. It takes some practice," he said. After a preliminary sketch, he would take off his mitten to put in the details—quickly.

You won't find any cute penguins or other wildlife in Rosenthal's scenes, which are for the most part about ice and more ice. "My friends say that I paint 'nothing' better than anyone else," he joked. But not all ice is alike—there's sea ice, which may not melt for years; "pancake" ice, circles of ice that float and push against each other; and "greasy" ice, which in its first stages of freezing has an oily sheen. On polar plateaus, the wind patterns have etched themselves into the ice. Each type of surface reflects a different shade of blue light, creating a subtle variety of textures in the paintings.

What was the hardest part of living on the isolated continent? Ironically, for Rosenthal, it was not having much time to himself. He resided in McMurdo Station, which he describes as "industrial-like and crowded." And when he went out to draw, he was usually accompanied by someone else, as he was advised not to hike alone. Sometimes he would "escape" by camping with friends. The slides of Rosenthal swathed in a snowsuit and a tent pitched on—you guessed it—ice make Siberia seem like a cushy vacation spot.

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