Friday, 2 June 2017

Horse & Train

"Against a regiment, I oppose a brain, and a dark horse against an armoured train."

Canadian painter Alex Colville used to construct model trains as a little boy. He was a student of order. His father and grandfather owned horses.  It seemed the perfect mix, then, to paint an horse and a train in 1953.  But there was another source of inspiration for Colville's painting -- the poem A Dark Horse Against an Armoured Train published by South African writer Roy Campbell in 1949.  "Against a regiment, I oppose a brain, and a dark horse against an armoured train."  The setting for the painting is Aular, near Sackville, New Brunswick where the elevated tracks cross the Tantramar Marshes.

The order that Colville thrived on as a little boy was upset by the images he saw and sketched during the Second World War, particularly the massive piles of bodies in the concentration camp, Bergen Belsen.  When Colville returned to Canada after the war, he tried to make sense out of the disorder in the world through existentialism.  He sought to embrace existence and to find meaning in his life.  The Horse and Train painting symbolizes the freedom of both the horse and the engineer:  while on a collision course, the horse could change direction at any time and the engineer could apply the brakes.  At the same time, as one columnist pointed out:  "Everything in an Alex Colville painting has an air of inevitability."

Horse and Train, arguably Colville's most famous piece, was acquired by the Hamilton ARt Gallery in 1957 where it remains to this day.


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