Beau Carey has a taste for difficult conditions: For 12 years, the artist has painted in all kinds of environments from the Arctic to the desert, and even on a 10-foot raft floating in the middle of Lake Superior. Once he’s settled on a spot, he’ll work on a composition for anything from two to eight hours. “In the studio I control every variable—the temperature, the light, the music,” he said. “When I work in the field, all those variables dramatically assert themselves. You can tell when I’m painting with mittens on. Or when it’s really windy out here in the desert, because there are leaves and dust stuck in the painting. And those little interventions in the work tell something about a place that a sketch or photo can’t.”
Carey got his first introduction to painting on the fly when he took a class at the University of New Mexico called “Wilderness Studio.” “It was about making your studio mobile,” he recalled. “It was kind of essential when I graduated because I didn’t have a studio, and it helped me realize I didn’t need one.” Now, the artist believes he can paint just about anywhere.
He rarely selects his locations for their aesthetic value; rather, he is drawn to environments for their conceptual underpinnings, such as a wildlife refuge outside Denver that was formerly a Superfund site (and one of the most polluted places in the country). Carey is also drawn to the Arctic for its remote, almost abstract place in the human imagination, despite its very concrete relationship to one of the greatest perils facing our species: climate change.
Among the paintings he created in those sub-zero temperatures is one called Northern Lights. “It was 20 or 25 below,” he said. “I mix my paints with walnut oil so they don’t freeze—linseed oil freezes at negative four. That was the coldest painting I think I’ve ever made. It was an amazing experience.”