A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Posts Tagged ‘alex colville

[META] A Bit More Detail is up on Facebook!

A Bit More Detail is now Facebook page! Please like and follow if you want to see this content there.

Alex Colville, To Prince Edward Island

Today is actually the first day that A Bit More Detail, the Facebook portal for my blogging, is in operation. I’m a bit embarrassed that it’s taken so long to do this, to separate this activity from my personal profile, but I’m glad that I did so. It’s time, I think, that I should formalize this activity; well past time, I think, that I should carve out a niche.

I took the name “A Bit More Detail”–more precisely, the idea for that name–from a wonderful passage in Harold Nicolson’s Peacemaking 1919, pages 275 to 276. On those pages, that diplomat and modernist shared a wonderful anecdote of a conversation he shared with Proust.

Proust is white, unshaven, grubby, slip-faced. He puts his fur coat on afterwards and sits hunched there in white kid gloves. Two cups of black coffee he has, with chunks of sugar. Yet in his talk there is no affectation. He asks me questions. Will I please tell him how the Committees work? I say, ‘Well, we generally meet at 10.0, there are secretaries behind. . . . ‘ ‘Mais non, amis non, vous allez trop vite. Recommencez. Vous prenez la voiture de la Délégation. Vous descendez au Quai d’Orsay. Vous montez l’escalier. Vous entrez dans la Salle. Et alors? Précisez, mon cher, précisez.’ So I tell him everything. The sham cordiality of it all: the handshakes: the maps: the rustle of papers: the tea in the next room: the macaroons. He listens enthralled, interrupting from time to time–‘Mais précisez, mon cher monsieur, n’allez pas trop vite.’

That provision of detail about things that are overlooked, the subtle things that can determine the flavour of much larger things, is something I have been trying to do for all these years. I did blunder into this after I got started on Livejournal in 2002, if not before; Usenet and Yahoo Groups was not blogging, but they were something. Toronto and cities, Prince Edward Island and islands, trends in economics and demographics and pop culture–these are some of my areas of expertise.

In exchange, I hope you’ll come and visit: The comments are open, and I’m always interested in talking and learning more from others. I want to provide a good space here for discussion and exploration. I would also like to use this space as a platform for doing more, for long-form writing and for action: 2018 has done a very good job of convincing me that simply watching is an activity that is not longer justifiable.

I sincerely hope that you’ll follow me at A Bit More Detail, joining the dozens of people who have already signed up. Let’s look together at some of the interesting corners of our world.

Dividing line

[OBSCURA] Alex Colville, “To Prince Edward Island”

I was given a challenge by Facebook’s Paul: “The idea is to occupy Facebook with art, breaking up all the political posts. Whoever ‘likes’ this post will be given an artist and has to post a piece by that artist, along with this text.” He gave me Alex Colville, and for me, after a certain amount of consideration, there was only one artist I could pick.

Alex Colville’s “To Prince Edward Island” is my favourite work by the man. I was so pleased to see it in the AGO’s 2014 Alex Colville exhibit–I even have a picture of me before it. What is the central figure looking at, and how did the ferry to the mainland (from the mainland?) get to be so exciting?

Your turn.

Written by Randy McDonald

February 6, 2017 at 8:00 am

[PHOTO] Point of convergence, Kew Beach looking onto Lake Ontario

Written by Randy McDonald

March 2, 2016 at 9:56 am

[PHOTO] In defense of photographs at art galleries, even selfies

On my Tumblr feed a week or two ago, I came across an article of some interest to me, “An Amsterdam Museum Asks Visitors to Trade Their Selfie Sticks for Pencils and Paper”.

Rijksmuseum, an arts and history museum located in the heart of Amsterdam, is asking visitors to put down their cameras and pick up a pen next time they enter the museum’s walls. Rijksmuseum’s new campaign #startdrawing wants to slow down observers, encouraging attendees to draw sculptures and paintings that interest them rather than snapping a picture and moving on to the next work in quick succession.

By slowing down the process of observation, the visitor is able to get closer to the artist’s secrets, the museum explains, engaging with each work by actively doing instead of passively capturing. “In our busy lives we don’t always realize how beautiful something can be,” said Wim Pijbes, the general director of the Rijksmuseum. “We forget how to look really closely. Drawing helps because you see more when you draw.” The museum has begun to highlight drawings completed by participants on their Instagram as well as their blog associated with the campaign here.

Banning cameras (or softly dissuading attendees from using them) is also a way to bring the focus from the selfie an attendee may take with a work of art to the masterpiece before them. A perfectly timed exhibition titled “Selfies on Paper” is currently on display in the museum — 90 self-portraits from well known artists from the 17th to 20th century spread through each floor of the museum. The exhibition shows how artists captured themselves on paper while acting as a challenge to those who might have thought selfie sticks were the only tool appropriate for self preservation. “Selfies on Paper” will run though the winter.

Oh. Where do I start?

Perhaps I should note that giving me a pen and some paper to sketch upon is not going to produce anything lasting. Even assuming that I can draw, and that I have the time, any paper document I would take with me from the museum would likely go with,the other papers I take from museums, into closets and bins and eventually sent off to be recycled. Some people might prefer ephemera; I prefer artifacts which have the durabilty of the digital.

More to the point, who is to say that photography is not an activity that requires a certain amount of skill and attention. I went to the Art Gallery of Ontario’s fantastic Welcome to Colville exhibition twice, and took photos of the Alex Colville works most important to me both times. (They can be found on my blog, here and here.) I can assure the reader that I took great care in looking at this artworks, paying attention to them, trying to compose images in my mind.

Alex Colville, "To Prince Edward Island" (1963)

Is the process of photography different from drawing? Sure. Are there things in common between the two processes? Definitely. I’m certainly engaging with the art.

There’s also the question of the selfie, raised slightingly in the article. As a glance at my photographic output should make clear, I’m not especially fond of the selfie myself. Leaving aside a possible reluctance to be photographed, I think that I see the photographer as implicit in the photograph. When you see one of my photographs, you hopefully see something close to what I saw there on the museum floor.

That said, there definitely are photographs of me at Welcome to Colville. My mother took this photograph of me in front of “To Prince Edward Island” on our trip to the AGO, my second to see this exhibition.

Me and "To Prince Edward Island"

The plush lobster claw on my arm, something available in the exhibit’s gift shop, was a straightforward selfie.

Me, wearing a lobster claw, at Welcome to Colville, AGO

What’s wrong with inserting myself into my memory of the exhibit? Why should I not have digital documents showing me a wonderful afternoon I had with my visiting mother, or documenting my bemusement at finding such a thing as a plush lobster claw? Should I efface myself, not have any kind of explicit presence at all? I think not.

There’s nothing wrong with a program encouraging visitors to draw artworks they see. There’s also nothing wrong with letting visitors take photographs of those same artworks in ways meaningful to them.

Written by Randy McDonald

December 28, 2015 at 10:12 pm

[PHOTO] More selected images from Welcome to Colville, Art Gallery of Ontario

In November, I visited the Art Gallery of Ontario to see its superb Welcome to Colville exhibit. A month later, I visited the gallery and exhibit with my mother to see it all again. Now, the day before the exhibit closes on the 4th of January, seemed a good time to share these photos.

I got my picture with “To Prince Edward Island”.

Me and "To Prince Edward Island"

I also saw this early study of the painting.

Study for To Prince Edward Island

“Milk Truck” does a good job evoking the small-town Maritimes for me.

"Milk Truck"

Colville’s painting of a cat and dog at their dishes is quietly domestic.

Colville's painting of a cat and dog at their dishes is quietly domestic.

“Child and Dog”, first the study then the painting, share in this theme of comfort.

Study for Child and Dog

Child and Dog

“Seven Crows”, as Ann-Marie Macdonald said in her paired video, does evoke for me the agency of these smart birds. What are they looking for?

"Seven Crows"

So, too, “Cyclist and Crow”.

"Cyclist and Crow"

Why is the woman running in “Berlin Bus”?

"Berlin Bus"

Meanwhile, the gallery itself was quite attractive.

Welcome to Colville Gallery (1)

Welcome to Colville Gallery (2)

There’s one more day. Go see it.

Written by Randy McDonald

January 3, 2015 at 7:06 pm

[PHOTO] Two takes on Alex Colville, “To Prince Edward Island” (1963)

Going through my Flickr archives, I found the below image of “To Prince Edward Island” stored there.

Alex Colville, To Prince Edward Island

And I saw it in real life, too!

Alex Colville, "To Prince Edward Island" (1963)

(Still pleased with the exhibition.)

Written by Randy McDonald

November 18, 2014 at 4:50 pm

[PHOTO] Selected images from Welcome to Colville, Art Gallery of Ontario

The Art Gallery of Ontario’s Welcome to Colville exhibition was superb.

Colville’s iconic “To Prince Edward Island” was the first painting visible to the entering visitor.

Alex Colville, "To Prince Edward Island" (1963)

“Elm Tree at Horton Landing” served as the cover image of an Alice Munro short story collection.

Alex Colville, "Elm Tree at Horton Landing" (1956)

There was plenty of video of Colville himself, being interviewed on any number of subjects. Here, he was talking about his connection to the Maritimes.

Alex Colville, "I have that whatever is here"

1964’s “Church and Horse” was well-documented, from sketch to final project. I did not know that the horse was inspired by John F. Kennedy’s Black Jack.

Alex Colville, "Church and Horse" (1964)

Alex Colville, "So, is pure, is incapable of malice"

Alex Colville, "Study for 'Church and Horse'"

Animals–especially wise animals like crows–featured heavily in Colville’s work. (His belief that animals possessed an innocence that human beings lacked may have been partly inspired by his experience in the Second World War, especially at Dachau.)

Alex Colville, "Cyclist and Crow" (1981)

Alex Colville, "Seven Crows" (1981)

The theme of the deportation of the Acadians underlies “French Cross.”

Alex Colville, "French Cross" (1988)

Colville’s noir tendencies took form in, among others, “Pacific” and the later “Woman with Revolver.”

Alex Colville, "Pacific" (1967)

Alex Colville, "Woman With Revolver" (1987)

The exhibition covered every stage of Colville’s life as an artist, from his early work as a student artist to the end of his long relationship with his wife and occasional model, Rhoda Wright.

Early student work of Alex Colville

Photo of Alex Colville with wife Rhoda Wright

It was superb.

Written by Randy McDonald

November 17, 2014 at 12:35 pm

[BRIEF NOTE] On Alex Colville and To Prince Edward Island

Canadian painter Alex Colville died today

The renowned Canadian artist Alex Colville has died at home in Wolfville, N.S., on Tuesday. He was 92.

[. . .]

His wife, Rhoda, who is often shown in his paintings -—as the woman looking through binoculars in To Prince Edward Island or nude in the light of the fridge in Refrigerator 1977 — died in December 2012.

Colville’s work often displays commonplace moments from his own life — himself and his wife walking on a beach or himself standing with his car. But there is something sombre or even ominous about the images.

[. . .]

While Colville’s images seemed to be taken directly from reality, he drew them from multiple sketches and studies, planning a perfect composition before he began to paint.

The painting process could take months — with layer upon layer of thinned paint painstakingly applied dot by dot to a primed wooden panel.

“Behind his words, as behind his art, you can sense elaborate webs of thought. And, also like his paintings, he stands quite alone, beyond category. It’s impossible to speak with him for a few hours without feeling his powerful sense of self. He is, it seems, a free man.” Robert Fulford wrote in Toronto Life in 2000.

The tranquil scenes are deceptive, because something about the relationship between figures or the nature of the landscape will convey loneliness, isolation, parting, work, leisure, estrangement, love.

“I see life as inherently dangerous. I have an essentially dark view of the world and human affairs .. Anxiety is the normality of our age,” Colville was quoted as saying.

My favourite painting of his is his 1965 To Prince Edward Island. The National Gallery of Canada’s page touches upon the mystery lurking behind the image. Who is the woman? What is she looking at, in what direction? Is everything as it seems? I’m quite used to the ferries of Prince Edward Island, having ridden them from an early age, but Colville’s problematization of the simple ferry ride caught my attention at a very early age.

Alex Colville, To Prince Edward Island

Written by Randy McDonald

July 18, 2013 at 3:48 am