Article | Canadian High Arctic and Greenland

Andrew Sookrah: Inspired by the Arctic

Enjoy this interview with renowned visual artist Andrew Sookrah about his experiences as Artist-in-Residence with Adventure Canada. Learn more about how the Arctic inspires his art, his process of painting on board, and how he shares his work.
Sookrah Portrait

What surprised you on your first trip with Adventure Canada?

My first trip with Adventure Canada was the 2017 trip to Sable Island, and from a logistics side of things, I knew what to expect having been on an expedition ship before (to the Arctic in 2006); and I had done some research on Sable Island before we left. But I wasn’t completely aware how comforting and supportive the environment is onboard the Ocean Endeavour and when we were on the island. The respect for the island and its inhabitants shown by the crew and expedition team was not a surprise to me, but I did make a note of it.

Leaving Gros Morne

How would you describe your work as an artist?

My artistic expression in one that is informed by many influences—from realism, graphic, abstraction, and social commentary, it’s one that goes to the core of my existence, it’s one where I am constantly observing and documenting what is happening around me. It’s the study and the awareness of the interconnectivity of everything.

I knew from a very young age that my drawings and paintings were different from the ones being done around me; I did not know if they were better, I just knew that they were different. The work I do now is the result of an approach of constantly setting the bar higher for myself, to set myself apart from the crowd.

For many years I had dual passions: my creative direction career in advertising, and my fine art. Now I am focused on my artistic expression, in some ways I am still driven by dual passions, I paint and I teach art. Being able to do what I do is a gift—one I’m grateful for and one that I know comes with an obligation. I should hope that I am respectful of that gift, and use it in a way that benefits the people around me. If I as an artist can paint pictures that are on some levels appealing or impactful but they also have a social commentary to them, I will have fulfilled my obligation.

On my first trip to the Arctic 2006, I did a bit of journaling. As I gazed on the icebergs for long periods of time it occurred to me that in the ten to fifteen thousand years of these icebergs being formed, they were collecting information on the events that took place during their formation. And now that those icebergs are melting, they are releasing those stories, re-telling them to us. If we still our minds we can hear those stories. Some are joyful, some are devastating, and they are not just stories of the Arctic.

I do iceberg sculptures in porcelain. Whenever I get into the studio I touch that clay, I say thanks. I’m aware that that piece of clay has been around since the beginning of time. And it’s going to take a different form, like an iceberg takes a different form from water to ice to water. I am just a facilitator of that change, someone who strives to find a connection from one form of existence to the next.

Iceberg Art

How do you work on board?

I find a spot somewhere, anywhere, and I paint. I’ve always maintained that I could draw and paint everywhere. (The crew were very helpful in this area when I travelled with them!) There was a spot where I was able to set up and paint, while interacting with the other adventurers, being in the moment of where we are. I share quite freely with anyone who is interested enough to talk to me about what I’m doing. There is a dedicated room set up for painting workshops as well where I will be working with groups of guests wishing to paint.

I would dearly love to have them create a piece of art on the Ocean Endeavour, something personal that is of them and of the moment. Being in the Arctic can have the effect of profound transformation. The Arctic is one of those regions that emphasizes the spirituality of any place. I could help them in any style, to create a piece that is of them—that they can say this was done in the Arctic, on this trip. I will also be doing a presentation and talk about the art of the regions that we’ll be visiting. And I’ll also talk about my own work, hopefully with some live painting!

Gros Morne Sookrah

What do you do after your trips?

I’ll tell you a quick story that will answer that question. When I was coming home from my first Arctic trip I was on Highway 401, coming back from the airport in Ottawa with my wife. She was bringing me up to date and saying “I made some changes around the house…” and I started to worry a bit. She laughed. My wife had gone to Ikea, bought shelving, pushed the dining room table to one side, brought my easel and paints up from the basement. She said “I knew when you came back you were going to want to paint.”

I will spend every waking moment that I can afford to with my easel, with my clay. I’ll be very keen to talk about the experience. I’ll be producing work and sharing my experience with Adventure Canada. And there will be shows!

Is there anything in particular you’re looking forward to on your next expedition?

One of the key things is to see the guests have a painting or a sketch that they bring back with them. I am also looking forward to being a part of the Adventure Canada Team. I’ve been in group environments for as long as I can remember and I try to treat each as one of collaboration.

I look forward to working with the expedition team. I saw the respect they had for each other and for the crew of the ship. We’re all part of a chain. If we’re aware of the link that comes before us and the one after us then the chain is strong and effective. I’m hoping to contribute whatever my link needs to be in the bigger chain. The two key words are respect and support.

Andrew Cheddie Sookrah is an elected member of the Society of Canadian Artists (Lifetime), the Canadian Society of Painters in Watercolour, the Ontario Society of Artists, and the Portrait Society Of Canada.

Born in Guyana in 1956, Andrew immigrated to Canada in 1974 and has passionately embraced the Canadian experience in art, design, and business. As Creative Director of Engine Room, he worked on provincial and national campaigns, as well as international projects in the US and UK. His fine art body of work includes landscape, portraiture & figurative paintings and ceramic sculpture. Andrew was Artist-in-Residence aboard Adventure Canada’s Sable Island voyage in 2017 and our Out of the Northwest Passage expedition in 2019.