The Ice Harvest
Clarence Alphonse Gagnon
This work caught my attention recently. The composition and colours worked together so delightfully to make the magic happen.
I like how the artist, divides his work in thirds. There is the sky, the village, and the ice cutters at the bottom.
Its safe to say that the sky isn't much of a contributor to the story we see unfolding. That being said, the life of the painting is encapsulated within the lower 2/3rds. And, even moreso, when you look at the village where there is no sign of activity and no smoke coming from chimneys it looks like the scene from a fairy tale. The real action takes place in the bottom third of the work.
There is a given among painters that its best to simplify. I think of Kenny Rogers song, "You've got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em." The wise artist is said to have that skill of being able to isolate the subject of interest and make it tell the story.
But like all sayings, it is a generalization. Lets look at this work and see how it fits together. Its clear that Gagnon isn't focusing on the ice cutters. Oh, sure they are a part of it. The title is 'The Ice Harvest' and not 'The Ice Harvesters'. In other words, its the activity and not the actors in the scene where its at.
And the activity embraces the village where the harvesters no doubt live, and it is the reason for their labour. They harvest not just for themselves but for the community.
The village is colourful, but subdued. The tonal value of the roofs isn't far removed from the violet sky and the trees. And, the village is highlighted by a swath of light which runs across the work and there are lots of cool mauves, violets, and cooled down yellows and the reds are muted into rust tones.
And collectively, this muting down contributes to the muted stillness of the village.
It is interesting too, to note how the ice cutters, wear dull coloured clothing. The strongest colour in the foregound, is the red sleigh drawn by the ox. The blocks of ice are a cold aqua tone and they are being piled on the sleigh, which is drawn along a visual path into the village.
The work doesn't ennoble individuality. The men who cut the ice are small and rather indistinct.
Its a painting about human connectivity. The ice harvesters are an extension of their community. And they are as much a part of the community as the violet snow and sky which is a part of its colour scheme. It all belongs together - and it hangs like a historical tapestry telling of the lives of people as it was in days gone by.