H E R E I S N O
"J U S T" F R O M T H E
A R T I S T' S P E R S P E C T I V E
. .T H E T I N I E S T
S P E C K I S A
G A L A X Y I F Y O U R
E Y E S A R E
F U N C T I O N I N G ."
" A T A D I S T A N C E
T H E O A K T R E E
S E E M S T O B E O F
O R D I N A R Y S I Z E
B U T I F I P L A C E
M Y S E L F B E N E A T H
I T S B R A N C H E S,
M Y I M P R E S S I O N
C H A N G E S
C O M P L E T E L Y."
I visited a local gallery to see the work of Alex
Colville, a renowned Canadian artist. He employs a technique
calling doubling. An animal is painted sitting in the foreground of
a picture, with its back to the viewer, to "double" for the artist.
In other words, the double sees the picture as the artist would have
seen it while creating it. And there is much more to it than that.
The animal is both a participant in, and an observer of the scene depicted
in the picture. As the double, it provides the viewer and the artist
with a reference point for determining relative size and distance of
the other features, objects and characters that comprise the completed
scene. The double helps to give definition to the visual experience.
Colville likes to uses animals, particularly dogs, because he says they
are not inherently mean-spirited, only if humans make them so. I interpret
his statement to mean that the dog, as a double, can look at the painting
in perpetuity without ever having an unkind thought or critical word
about it. Unlike viewers and, for that matter, the artist too.
The dog is an impartial observer whose function is to provide the viewer
with a visual perspective and also an attitudinal one. To see with alert
curiousity rather than a harshly critical eye. The dog is the viewer's
best friend and constant companion in the visual experience and can
be appreciated for the gifts of perspective it offers.
Colville's doubles look upon ordinary, everyday scenes from Nova Scotia,
where Colville has lived most of his life. Our 6-month-old puppy Tipper
sits in most of the "scenes" of our daily life. She is both a participant
and observer as she watches us closely with her curious and intense
little brown eyes. She often sits with her head cocked to one side with
a quizzical look on her face as she holds us in her gaze.
I imagine the possibility of her being a double, seeing us in the ordinary,
everyday scenes we inhabit, from the perspective of an artist who is
trying to capture them. What details of our experience does she see
that we totally miss, that would be so important to an artist in rendering
an accurate representation of a specific event?
It may be worthwhile to be more fully aware of our selves in those daily
experiences that comprise a good share of our lives. Do them like someone
is watching. What we notice might be more interesting than we think.
In fact, we may be more interesting than we think. Tipper seems to think
so, but my critical self wants to argue.
It is quite an unusual and challenging experience to try seeing myself
through the fresh eyes of a puppy, and by extension, an artist's view
of my life. I need to pause more, cock my head to one side, gaze at
myself with a quizzical look, and gain more definition and perspective
in my life.