Jonathan Marquis is a multi-media artist, writer, and mountaineer, seeking immersive experiences within mountainous terrain to consider posthuman geographies. His investigations of the landscape began as an endeavor to draw all the remaining glaciers in the state of Montana. He has since covered thousands of miles on foot in isolated locations, translating his more-than-human encounters through drawing, painting, alternative photographic processes, and video.
How did you begin working with/in response to natural environments?
I moved to Montana in 2003 to complete my studies in art. I began hiking and backpacking a lot and eventually started a practice of walking in the mountains near my home in search of places to draw.
The sensorial practice of engaging, dialoguing, and giving attention to the landscape through drawing began to drive my creative practice and sense of place. Art became a way to investigate notions of self in the landscape and research the entangled ecologies that bind us.
As my practice grew, news articles of melting glaciers in Glacier National Park were in the media. The stories often featured repeat photography to make visible glacial melt. I became interested in how images communicated climate change and wondered about the glaciers near my home. I knew of other glaciers beyond the national park in various mountain ranges and wilderness areas from my experience backpacking. I could not find much about their present condition, so, in 2014, I launched the Glacier Drawing Project – an endeavor to visit and draw every glacier in Montana. At present, I have been to 37 of the 54 or so remaining named glaciers in the state. Every summer, I keep going back to draw more and have returned to others multiple times.
In 2017, I began making cyanotypes with glacial materials. Glacial materials have a life of their own; they behave unpredictably and are more like managing or responding to a situation of ice, rock, gravity, and sky. The cyanotypes picture the materiality of ice melt and climate change in a way that allows the glacier to draw itself. How we imagine and think about glacial ice has real effects on the ground. I describe the cyanotypes as collaborations to emphasize glaciers as active and present agents whose lives and deaths shape more than just the ground beneath the ice.
Share with us one of your favorite creative pieces and the natural environment it responds to.
Over the recent summer, I made the cyanotype titled, Downwaste: Piegan I, at the melting edge of Piegan Glacier, tucked high into the Continental Divide in Glacier National Park. Piegan Glacier is an alpine cirque glacier and is nestled in a north-facing bowl, surround by thousand-foot-tall cliffs and a peak of the same name. Getting there is a challenging approach. Fortunately, the weather was glorious on the day I made the cyanotype. After a long hike, a big mountain climb, and a careful, step-by-step descent through a series of ledges and couloirs, I found my way to the melting edge of Piegan glacier.
The physical and psychological elements of traveling and making art in these wild places guide the practice. I am grateful my body can bend in rhythm with the land, and making art with these places allows me to lean in a little closer.
What advice do you have for someone who wants to co-create with the natural world?
Collaboration with nature begins as soon as you open your eyes, walk out the door, and take a breath. The idea of wilderness starts in your backyard, become curious, think with the land, not about the land. Always jump in the water, climb a mountain, go on enough solo backpacking trips until the fear of being alone outdoors dissipates. Let the land bend and shape you, make friends, bring a map, pack it in – pack it out, and for all things holy, if you shit outside, dig a hole and bury your crap!
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Image info: 1: A Geology of the Senses, Joseph Gross Gallery, University of Arizona, 2017; 2: Glacier Drawing Project; 3: Downwaste: Piegan I; 4: Jonathan at Piegan Glacier; 5: Jonathan at Glacier National Park.