Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Alex Colville, Horse and Train

Having tried and failed to be wilfully scornful of the triumvirate of Great Canadian Painters Bateman, Danby and Trisha Romance, let’s now cast aside the bow and arrow for a look at someone modern and, you know, Canadian, who’s actually matched the spirit of the Group of Seven.

Alex Colville, seen here in a detail from a famous portrait by Arnaud Maggs, was yet another Ontarian, but his folks got him out of there early and took him to someplace real instead, Nova Scotia, when he was still only nine. He showed his gratitude by getting very, very sick, but convalescence in those days meant crayons, and an artist was born in fever. Great stuff.

During that big fight with the Nazis, Colville was a “war artist”, just like some of the Seven, and likened the experience to a novelist training as a police reporter. These war artists were supposed to give the folks back home an accounting of how their tax money was being spent overseas, and it’s likely that many tax bills were promptly paid when Jacques and Gilles Canadien saw Colville’s paintings of the mass graves at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

This business of obtaining and hanging on to freedom, which cropped up in Hitler’s Europe and doesn’t seem to be getting resolved in Bush’s Iraq, got a reading in Colville’s “Horse and Train” in 1954, shown at the top of this post. Hooves pound toward destiny, but unless this nag is mesmerised by the engine’s beacon, surely he can leave that track, right?

Or is the horse being brave? Pig-headed? Stupid? Am I the horse? If so, can I or should I alter my course? If not, does the death of a horse matter to me, especially if its salvation means disrupting the train’s well-planned course?

Extracted from 'The Dali House', please click here.

1 comment:

  1. Alex Colville is one of my favorite artists. I even tried a painting in his magic realism style and had it invited into a show last year. The recognition of my homage to the painter was welcome but also made me realize that he is who he is and I am who I am. I am back to painting like "me."
    I hope, Winston, that you are doing well. I send prayers and hugs for your recovery.


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