Crookall as Colville

CVA 260-1136.1 - [Men on a sailboat]ca1918 James Crookall-rook2

CVA 260-1136.1 – Men on a sailboat. ca1918 James Crookall photo.

This CVA image made by local amateur James Crookall strikes me as being an outstanding photograph.

It shows four men in a sailboat on relatively calm water. The gent with the cigar appears to be the eldest of the four — possibly the father. It is technically a very good photo. But there is something about it that rises above its technical competence.¹

This photo has an artistic element to it. It was made about 1918, two years before the Canadian artist, Alex Colville (1920-2013) was born. And yet, it seems to draw on Colville’s later brilliance at capturing the ordinary and then turning normal on its head by introducing a component of imminent danger.

I think this Crookall image has, in spades, all of what would later become Colville’s trademark qualities:

  • Only one face of the four is fully visible (the person farthest from the viewer);
  • The men seem to be doing ordinary tasks on a sail craft (the older man is fiddling with the rigging; the guy to his right seems to be at the wheel; the fellow at left, background is loafing; and the gent whose face we can see seems to be on lookout);
  • And yet, I don’t think I’m imagining the tension in this photo. The lookout guy isn’t positioned to be very effective at his job (assuming that I’ve got his job right): the orientation of the sails prevents him from seeing what lies in front of the craft! Furthermore, while I’ve deduced that the fellow at right front is at the wheel, there is no wheel to be seen. Both of these features create a tension in the viewer. I believe the blackness of the companionway between ‘father’ and ‘wheel guy’ reinforces it.

As my old friend Wes rightly remarked when I brought this image to his attention two years ago, “Of course, if it were a Colville, one of these fellas would be loading a revolver!”

Alex Colville, January 1971 Acrylic polymer emulsion on hardboard 60.9 × 81.2 cm Collection of TD Bank Group © A.C. Fine Art Inc.

Alex Colville, January 1971 Acrylic polymer emulsion on hardboard 60.9 × 81.2 cm Collection of TD Bank Group © A.C. Fine Art Inc. (Note that neither face is fully visible and they are undertaking what appears to be an ordinary day of snowshoeing… and yet, although there is nothing overtly dangerous in this painting, there is something that gives the viewer pause. What is it that the woman sees? What is behind the hummock in this apparent prairie scene?)


¹There were three other images made by Crookall, evidently on the same day with the same subjects, but not one of the others approaches the quality of this one. For all four images, see here.

This entry was posted in James Crookall, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Crookall as Colville

  1. I love that the photographer ended up in the dinghy for a shot from behind!
    Great set of photos – I enjoyed examining them! The guy with the cigar is probably muttering under his breath about the tangle of lines that the loafer left behind before he was banished to the foredeck..

  2. jmv says:

    Outstanding post! Crookall would be proud.

  3. B says:

    With the calm sea why are the sails up?

Leave a Reply to mdm Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s