Project 5

John Grade

Seattle artist John Grade explores sculptural forms that suggest floats. Glass fishing floats have been making their way to the Alaska Arctic coast from Asia on ocean currents for the past century. They get trapped in sea ice – sometimes for decades – and wash up on shore in sound condition. Grade created glass and wood sculptures inspired by these fishing floats for the exhibition View From Up Here. Some floats are currently in Arctic waters, tethered just off shore. The ones in the exhibition have stayed behind and remain in pristine condition.


John Grade lives and works in Seattle, WA. He creates large-scale sculptures that are exhibited internationally in museums, galleries, and outdoors in urban spaces and nature. His projects are designed to change over time and often involve collaboration with large groups of people to build and install. Grade is a recipient of the Metcalf Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Tiffany Foundation Award, an Andy Warhol Foundation Award, two Pollock-Krasner Foundation grants, the Arlene Schnitzer Prize from the Portland Art Museum (Oregon), and an Arts Innovator Award from Artist Trust in Washington. For his View From Up Here installation, Grade made multiple trips to the Arctic in both Alaska and Iceland.

In 2013, the Anchorage Museum brought John Grade to Alaska and to Iceland as part of Polar Lab.

In 2014, Grade returned to Alaska and drove the Dalton Highway from Fairbanks to Deadhorse, flew deep into Gates of the Arctic National Park, and paddled 80 miles down the Noatak River to draw, photograph and make casts of trees in the tundra. The casts were transported back to Grade’s studio where he painstakingly covers them with wood and other materials to return them to a “natural” state.

Through his Arctic experience, Grade explored ideas around northern climate by studying pingos. Pingo is an Inuit word for “small hill.” Arctic botanist A. E. Porsild borrowed the word to describe a particular formation of earth-covered ice mounds that dot the Arctic and sub-Arctic landscapes. New research suggests that the recent increase in pingos is due to the decomposing methane gas hydrates, as a result of climate change. As warmer waters have “transgressed” upon regions of the long-submerged permafrost, the hydrate structures may, essentially, be melting. And as the gas pushes upward, pingo-like features are forming on the land and on the seabed. Methane is an especially virulent greenhouse gas.

“Experiencing this Arctic landscape and its nuances and gradual changes was amazing,” says Grade. “I don’t think I have ever been so profoundly moved by a landscape before.”

Grade continues to work with the museum on the pingos project for an upcoming installation.