Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Alex Colville 1921-2013


Alex Colville - Cyclist and Crow (1981)

Canada has lost it's most iconic visual artist today. Alex Colville has passed on, leaving a priceless visual legacy. His paintings are recognizable worldwide, and especially dear to Canadians, and even more-so to Atlantic Canadians, from where most of his work was inspired and crafted. Often referred to as "Photo-Realism", Colville himself rejected that term. His paintings might be "photographic", but that's merely in the sharp detail. The difference lies strongly in the artist's own observation that paintings are made, but photographs are taken. Colville's approach to making a painting was to carefully create studies of each of a picture's element, and carefully put them together into a scene that could have been real, but in fact, was not real in the "photographic" sense.

His approach in Cyclist and Crow, for example, would've incorporated his years of study and sketches about the way in which a crow flies, to which he added studies about how a person rides a bicycle, combined with the human God-like curiosity about all things. Then he would choose a perfect setting, and put it all together into a work that might look as if it had been snapped by a camera, but was in fact not. In this painting, he might even be teasing this impression somewhat, because the very bottom part of the bicycle tires are cut off, as is the entire rear part of the bike itself, which kind of gives the painting a snapshot quality. In fact, if I were to submit this as a photograph to critique, these would be brought out as "issues" regarding my composition. But to Colville, who was of course in control of every aspect of the image composition, because it is a painting after all, he decided to compose the picture in this fashion. In the end, it is these compositional factors, which we photographers might call "mistakes", that actually give this painting an eternal life - just stand back and look at it, and you should see what I mean - both the bike and the crow are set in motion because of the composition - in true "decisive moment" fashion.

In my younger days as a painter, Alex Colville was one of the few artists that mattered to me personally. Now as a snap photographer, a few years back I had created a Flickr Group in his honour. Sadly, there's not much on here besides my own photos, but I give recognition and gratitude to the four other individuals who've joined this group.

Alex Colville - you will always be remembered. Thank you for showing us the truth about reality.

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