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written by Erica Lindsay Walker, vice president, education chair

Modern society is a stressful place to be. Everywhere we go we experience noise, visual as well as aural. But classic representational art can be a great antidote for this. It’s refreshing to rest our eyes on something calm and orderly – and if there’s a little humor and energy thrown in, all the better!

Bird's Eye View

Bird’s Eye View

Caryn Coville’s coloured pencil still life, “Bird’s Eye View”, is a case in point. This little work is as gentle as its subjects. It has more contrast in it than one might expect at first glance, though, and it’s these contrasts that lend the work the energy it needs. For example, Coville chooses that most time-honoured of designs, the triangle. The triangle creates automatic stability, and this is also enhanced by the prominent vertical lines in the background. But the bird is perched just a bit precariously at the top. We feel that it might move at any moment. This creates a slight uncertainty that adds life to the entire scene. It is restful, but not dull.

We see more contrasts in the shapes Coville uses. The main ones are very geometric and basic: triangle (the design), square (the blocks), and circle (the marbles). These anchor the work still more, and give it strength. But then the artist gives us some wonderful irregular shapes such as the bird, the chubby cat (whose tail mirrors the shape of the number 2 on the other block), the marble swirls which also echo the curves of the bird’s plumage, and so on. Geometric is predictable, irregular is not, and so again we have a quiet contrast that livens things up.

A cheerful, harmonious palette continues the effect. Soothing blues make up the background, soft yellows and greens predominate much of the rest, but the artist also adds a few punches of bright red. She is careful not to add too much, so everything works together and no one colour jars with or overpowers the others.

Finally, “Bird’s Eye View” does one thing more, at least for me – it makes me smile. The bird and toys bring back my childhood, and I love the happy cat! Classic, traditional art is often supposed to be very dignified and serious, but this work proves that it can have a sense of humor as well. Cheers!