Thursday, December 31, 2015

Mondrian on Monopoly

Acrylic on gessoed birch panel, 10 x 12''
painting #236, 2015

I've mentioned before that the Piet Mondrian's grid like paintings reminds me of the Monopoly board game. While visiting Philadelphia with my family this past October and doing some sightseeing, we unexpectedly came across the Municipal Service Building Plaza right next to the JFK Plaza (Love Park) which features gigantic game pieces from Sorry, Monopoly, Chess, Dominoes and Bingo. This 1996 art installation is appropriately named ''Your Move'' and is the brainchild of artists Daniel Martinez, Renée Petropoulis and Roger White. Upon seeing it, the whole narrative for this painting came to me. Little did I know that two days later, I would see a Piet Mondrian at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. 

We just returned from a four day Christmas Getaway Vacation in New York City and during our visit to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), we got to see a whole wall of Mondrian's grid paintings. The painting shown below (lower left) entitled ''Broadway Boogie Woogie'', oil on canvas, 1942-43 was painted after Piet Mondrian moved to New York City to escape WWII. It was influenced by boogie-woogie music. For a great sample click HERE.

This painting was SOLD upon posting it on social media to a collector living in the Netherlands, the native land of Mondrian, how appropriate.

This is my last post for 2015. Thanking you all for checking out my art blog throughout the year and to the patrons who acquired some of my artwork. May 2016 bring you much contentment, happiness and peace.  


Thursday, December 10, 2015

Observing Alex Colville

Acrylic polymer emulsion on gessobord, 11 x 14''
Painting #235, 2015

- Owens Art Gallery, Mount Allison University in Sackville, NB - April 28, 2002, 3pm.

I'm here with my wife Suzanne at the opening reception of Alex Colville: The History of Mount Allison. The artist is present and I am quite nervous to meet him for the first time ever, but in a good way. It's a full-house, elbow to elbow. We walk around the first floor galleries when someone asks Suzanne if she was part of Colville family? Maybe it's the Rhoda Colville or his daughter Ann Kitz  hairstyle she wears that prompted such an comment.

Robert Benn (Class of 1952) makes an illuminating speech before introducing Alex Colville. Then Mr. Colville talks about the making of his 1948 commissioned mural, The History of Mount Allison located on campus at Tweedy Hall. He mentions that his gift of the 65 preparatory drawings done for the mural were stashed away in his house and that he had not looked at them for the longest of times. ''Seeing them all here displayed on the walls, some of them are actually quite good!'' he says.  

After his speech Suzanne tells me, ''Get in line to meet him''. I'm glad she came with me.

with Alex Colville at Owens Gallery Gallery, 2002

I had sent him four letters during previous years and he had always generously replied each time. When I introduce myself, he response was, ''Are you the runner?'' At the time I was running marathons and travelling to cities which also had great art collections to visit. I knew so much about the happenings in his artistic life, that conversation was easy. When we ended our chat he said, ''This is the first time that we actually meet each other in person'', which I replied ''Yes, it is''. He then signed a book, The Observer Observed, his biography written by Mark A. Cheetham and a Canada Post First-Day cover, whom had honoured him a month earlier by choosing ''Church and Horse'' for a stamp, part of the on-going ART Canada Masterpiece Series

This painting is kind of a personal piece for me. The artist who initially inspired me to start painting. The composition for this painting has elements that are connected to him. The book was written by David Burnett and published by the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) for a retrospective of his work in 1983. (click here for an interview with Barbara Frum).  I acquired it in a bookshop in Wolfville, NS during the late summer of 1989 after viewing an exhibition of his work at the University of Acadia Art Gallery that was entitled The Dow Gift. As luck would have it, it was an autographed copy.

The image on the book cover is a detail from his painting ''Target Pistol and Man'' done in 1980 when Colville turned 60.  Although he has included himself as a figure for several of his paintings, according to Burnett, this painting was the only true self-portrait until then. The setting for this painting was in his studio on the third floor of the house where he and his wife Rhoda lived from 1973 to 1998 in Wolfville, NS, the same space that is featured on the First-Day cover. In the image, he is not looking at the viewer, but rather at his self reflection in a mirror. His wedding ring and watch appears on his right hand/wrist, while in reality they would have been on the left. Burnett also explains the symbolism of the gun, which is not about violence as one might think.

Target Pistol and Man, 1980
Acrylic, 60 x 60 cm
Private collection, Calgary
at AGO (Oct. 2014)

The first day cover of his stamp was issued by Canada Post in Edmonton, AB on March 3, 2002. During our conversation, I asked him if he had attended the reception in Edmonton during the launch of the stamp, which he replied “No, it would had been a bit much to travel there”. It would be interesting to know why Canada Post chose Edmonton and not Sackville, NB or Wolfville, NS for the launch of the stamp. For my painting, I decided to change the date and place on the First Day cover to April 28, 2002 and Sackville, NB to document the day I got to meet him in person. He grew up in the border town of Amherst, NS. Sackville carried a lot of weight in his artistic career and family life. He attended Mt Allison University and earned a BFA in 1942. He married Rhoda Wright that same year and later raised four children here. He was dispatched as a war artist from 1943-46. From 1946 to 1963 he was part of the Mt Allison Fine Arts faculty as a professor. In 1963, he resigned from the university position in order to paint full-time while continuing to live in Sackville for another decade. Sackville and the nearby Tantramar Marsh would become the setting for several of his paintings. In this interview he recalls the importance of living in a more rural setting, away from the agitation of the big cities, click HERE.

Milk Truck, 1959
oil and synthetic resin
collection C.I.L
setting: Downtown Sackville, NB
exhibited at the AGO.

Since his passing at the age of 92 less a month, on July 16, 2012, Alex Colville continues to receive adulation as one of Canada's painter laureate. During that same spring, with failing health and in the memory of the passing of his wife Rhoda (December, 2011), he made a very generous gift of the 35 serigraph prints done during his artistic career to the Owens Art Gallery. I attended the opening reception on November 2, 2012 held in Tweedy Hall. His daughter Ann was invited to talk about the lives of her parents and the gift. She herself had served as a model for so many of his paintings from a very young age. It was a very moving moment for all. Mt Allison alumni and former student of Colville, Christopher Pratt also delivered a touching address about his formative years while a student under his tutelage. The huge gathering then proceeded for the unveiling of the exhibition at the Owens Art Gallery. While I am only one of his many admirers, my picture was taken at the exact some spot where I shook his hand a decade earlier and would appeared in the NB Telegraph Journal a few days later.

at the Alex Colville Gift, Owens Art Gallery, Nov. 2, 2012
Telegraph Journal, photographer Viktor Pivovarov

Since then, both the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto (AGO) (August 23, 2014 - January 4, 2015) and the National Gallery in Ottawa ( April 25 - September 7, 2015) have acted as the stage for a major lifetime retrospective which I had the immense pleasure on seeing with Suzanne in Toronto on October 28, 2014. We had also visited the National Gallery during the Easter break last year and got to see several of his paintings in their permanent collection. 

Alex Colville retrospective, AGO, 2014

On November 26, 2015, a 1975 Colville original painting entitled ''Harbour'' was sold during the Heffel Fall Auction for a record price of 1,880,000 CND (including premiums), breaking his previous record for Man on Verandah which was also sold at auction for 1,287,000 CND in 2010. 

This painting will be exhibited at the Fog Forest Gallery in a group show entitled ''The Finest Gifts'' in the lovely town of Sackville, NB.

To acquire this painting, please contact the
Fog Forest Gallery
14 Bridge Street, Sackville, NB
(506) 536-9000 

Previous posts on Alex Colvillle 

- Reflecting on being Acadian 
- The Colville House