Before speaking to artists exhibiting at the WAG, I like to look closely at the works they have chosen to show. Sometimes I’m present during the hanging and can watch (or help) as the art is positioned on the bare walls. Other times I’m greeted by a gallery space that is resplendent with images, pattern or colour.
The current show by Alan Craggs, called “Blue Surreal,” does indeed offer many blue vistas of sky and water, often punctuated by trees. I focus on these realistic paintings first. When I look at them, the word “pristine” comes to mind, but then I see a piece in which the pure blue hues are shattered by what appears to be refuse—large chunks of jagged multi-coloured plastic lining the shore and floating on the water. A statement about environmental degradation? An interpretation that Alan accepts but, in fact, the scene depicts the rocks at Triton Falls, possible features of a Martian landscape. Well!
Some of Alan’s oil paintings are inspired by actual places while others are invented. “Surreal” is how Alan describes them. The fantastical outer space scenes appear in many works in the exhibition. Embryo, for example, a rich swirling mass of colours, takes place in a black hole overpowering a space city of spires. This piece is Alan’s favourite, for its aesthetic appeal, its popularity (hundreds of copies in print form have been sold on Facebook), and for its theme of good and evil.
“Where does your interest in the other-worldly come from?” I ask Alan. A story follows. One day, when he was four, during an assembly at his school in England, he noticed that the headmistress, who was on stage, had a double head. He mentioned this to his parents. Very concerned, his mother took him to the optometrist who diagnosed a lazy left eye. In order to strengthen the muscles of that eye, Alan had to spend a lot of time focussing on projected images—of fantastical landscapes. “I realize those images have always been in the back of my mind,” he says, his accent, though slight, unmistakeably British. He came to Canada at the age of 14.
Some of the paintings in this show have stories within them. Alan explains how he conceived Dragon, an icy blue “surrealist” landscape expressing his emotional response to an incident that left him angry and traumatized. He was in a parking lot when a huge forklift hit him and dragged him across the lot. “I felt raped,” he tells me, pointing out a small scene in the bottom left.
Alan has been painting in his spare time for 43 years and is mostly self-taught. He’s now retired after working for more than two decades as shipping manager for Northern Cable in Brockville. A year ago he began painting his realistic scenes, but he tells me he will also continue to invent surrealistic landscapes and space scenes. He averages one painting every three months. His goals as an artist? On a technical level, to create depth in his paintings by working on layers and, more generally, to tell a story or develop a theme.
Blue Surreal, an exhibition of original oil paintings as well as prints made of a selection of these, continues until August 30.
Interested in purchasing a piece of art from the Window Art Gallery? See the details here.
Ulrike Bender is a former graphic designer, art director and ESL teacher who, in retirement, has ventured into photography. She is currently a volunteer gallery assistant at the WAG and a docent at Agnes.