Claire Harkess | Artist Insights

05 Jul 2020

Into the Wild reflects three quite different, intense experiences of the High Arctic and various rewilding locations in the UK. West Coast Greenland in Autumn- sailing fjords and uninhabited stretches of coast; taking inflatable ribs amongst growlers; hearing the dripping glaciers; on gentler slopes knee high forests of seasonal berries; rough seas and northern light.

Claire Harkess | Artist Insights
Claire Harkess, Svalbard 2016

Svalbard, mid-summer, 600 miles from the North Pole. The wilderness is equally breathtaking. The crisp, clean air heightens the senses. Twenty-four hour sun blazes in a circle overhead. The birds have returned and breeding season is in full swing. Some are familiar- eider, tern, snow bunting, fulmar. Other wildlife not so – arctic fox, little auk, walrus. The landscape of mid-summer blizzards, sea ice, glaciers and snow-covered mountains is the backdrop to the most iconic of all- the ice bear. An overwhelming moment.

Claire Harkess | Artist Insights
Ice Bear, Snow, watercolour on chinese paper, 37 x 37 cm
Claire Harkess | Artist Insights
Ice Bear, Stalk, watercolour on chinese paper, 37 x 37 cm

The polar bear is deeply imbedded in Arctic culture. It has many names- Nanook (the master of bears) Tornasuk (the master of helping spirits) Gyp (Grandfather). It is the symbol and ambassador of the Arctic. More than ever we are aware of the environmental threats to its habitat and the wider global changes to climate. The paintings offer a window on our world- the moments I witness- fleeting glimpses through a porthole. Painting in watercolour offers a clarity- transparent, clean, fresh, direct. The perfect medium to echo this habitat and wildlife.

Claire Harkess | Artist Insights
Gyp (Grandfather, the Ket Tribe, Siberia) watercolour, 81 x 80 cm

To have witnessed true, vast wilderness is a privilege. The current pandemic restrictions allow time to reflect. Not only do I hold precious the memories of place- I can call on them again - make new work – anytime.

Claire Harkess | Artist Insights
Little Auks, Hyttevika, 2016, watercolour 58 x 82 cm

The intensity of lockdown has brought home a heightened sense of awareness. A walk in the park, the screech of a swift, a snail in the garden, the falling of cherry blossom has never looked or sounded so bright. Just putting a foot outside is a step into the wild.

Claire Harkess, June 2020


There are parts of the rewilding story that are romantic, parts practical with successes and failures and then there are the realities of the situation. A straightforward definition quickly leads to complex issues of restoration and the rebalancing of entire eco systems. It is political, legal and logistical, involving the coming together of many areas: landownership, land reform, land management, deer numbers, government policy, risk to livestock, money, livelihoods, to name but a few.

Claire Harkess, A Wilder Place exhibition catalogue, The Scottish Gallery, April 2018
Claire Harkess | Artist Insights
Capercallie, watercolour, 71 x 53 cm
Claire Harkess | Artist Insights
Regeneration, Dormant Forest I, watercolour, 57 x 82cm
Claire Harkess | Artist Insights
Wolf Portrait V, watercolour, 30 x 30 cm

Claire Harkess’s paintings allow us to glimpse species such as the wildcat, now rarely seen in Scotland, and experience the thrill of the possible. Whilst pragmatic management approaches are necessary Claire’s exhibition allows the observer to abandon the practical considerations and wonder at the species we might one day see return.

Sarah Robinson, A Wilder Place exhibition catalogue, The Scottish Gallery, April 2018

Sarah Robinson is a former Trustee of the Board, Rewilding Britain and now Director of Conservation at the Scottish Wildlife Trust

Click here to view available works by Claire Harkess

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