AGB por­trait draws con­cern

Artist calls crit­i­cism short-sighted as sculp­ture is not yet halfway through pro­duc­tion

The Victoria Standard - - Front Page - CAROLYN BAR­BER

Not ev­ery­one is happy with Chris­tian Cor­bet’s por­trait sculp­ture of Alexan­der Graham Bell cur­rently stand­ing at Vic­to­ria County Cre­ates (VCC) in Bad­deck. It’s not clear though who, or how many, are dis­pleased.

Vic­to­ria County Cre­ates (VCC) Man­ager Court­ney Smith no­ti­fied Cor­bet on August 23 of a let­ter ad­dressed to him c/o VCC. The let­ter, signed by “Bad­deck con­cerned cit­i­zens”, states that they “were shocked to see how un­like him it is” and crit­i­cizes the por­trait’s eyes for be­ing “so close to­gether it makes him look cross-eyed.” The note re­quests that Cor­bet con­sider start­ing over.

The Stan­dard spoke with Mr. Cor­bet by phone at his res­i­dence in Sackville, NB, on August 26.

Cor­bet is con­fi­dent the eyes are ac­cu­rate on the por­trait.

“I’ve taken a foren­sic ap­proach to this. Alexan­der Graham Bell car­ries the av­er­age artis­tic canons, phys­i­cal canons. He has pre­cisely one eye apart from the other eye, or av­er­age dis­tance be­tween one eye and the other.”

Ac­cord­ing to Cor­bet, peo­ple may per­ceive the eye dis­tance as too close if they are plac­ing the great­est fo­cus on the eyes which is nat­u­ral when speak­ing to an­other per­son. He adds that the deeper tonal qual­ity of the por­trait’s eyes may also draw ex­tra fo­cus to them.

Cor­bet feels the crit­i­cism is pre­ma­ture as he is barely halfway through the work he be­gan in July as artist-in-res­i­dence with VCC. There are sev­eral stages and de­ci­sions re­main­ing in the process be­fore the fin­ished sculp­ture is un­veiled.

“Num­ber one, com­plete the por­trait. Num­ber two, cre­ate a sil­i­con mould of the por­trait. Af­ter that, a mother mould will be made of that. Then from the neg­a­tive of that mould a cast mould will be made. We don’t yet know whether it will be cast in bronze, plas­tic, bronze resin, just resin, or a mar­ble pow­der.”

Cor­bet has sculpted the likes of J.A. Dou­glas Mc­curdy, the in­au­gu­ral pi­lot of the Sil­ver Dart in 1909, and his foren­sic tech­niques were in­te­gral in revealing that Robert the Bruce did not have le­prosy. He at­tributes his suc­cess to the mas­ter sculp­tors who men­tored him.

“I have had ex­ten­sive train­ing with Canada’s lead­ing sculp­tor of the 20th cen­tury, El­iz­a­beth Hol­brook, and other sculp­tors. I was taught to study things anatom­i­cally, to look at the phys­i­cal char­ac­ter­is­tics. I was taught to read books, come in con­tact with the sub­ject if they are still alive or with their rel­a­tives or with peo­ple who knew them. I soak my head with as much in­for­ma­tion as pos­si­ble. It’s not a mat­ter of just grab­bing a block of clay, throw­ing it on a metal rod and say­ing ‘voila!, this is a master­piece’. It’s about re­ally get­ting to know the in­di­vid­ual.”

The artist is sat­is­fied with his level of fa­mil­iar­ity with Alexan­der Graham Bell.

“There is no­body who knew Alexan­der Graham Bell who is still alive. I stud­ied old films of Alexan­der Graham Bell while he was in mo­tion. I look for casted shad­ows. I look for high­lights. I look for darks and lights. And then I can start to de­ter­mine var­i­ous artis­tic canons, where things need to be placed. One of the hard­est things to do is to bring some­one back into 3-D.”

Cor­bet is tak­ing the crit­i­cism in stride, ac­knowl­edg­ing that few Cana­di­ans are fa­mil­iar with the art form.

“We are born of a na­tion where the cam­era al­ready ex­isted and the cam­era was the quick­est, eas­i­est way to cre­ate some­one’s por­trait. The run­ner up was paint­ing and sculp­ture al­ways placed third. It is the most ex­pen­sive when it comes to pro­duc­tion.”

Res­i­dents who wish to view the sculp­ture should visit VCC soon. Cor­bet will re­turn to Bad­deck within the next few weeks to re­trieve it for com­ple­tion at his stu­dio in Sackville, NB. When com­pleted, Cor­bet will do­nate the valu­able bust though he is un­cer­tain at this time of its fi­nal des­ti­na­tion.

A por­trait of Alexan­der Graham Bell be­ing sculpted by Chris­tian Cor­bet stands on dis­play at the Vic­to­ria County Cre­ates as a workin-porgress. An anony­mous let­ter sug­gests the work looks noth­ing like the in­ven­tor and hu­man­ist. Photo by Carolyn Bar­ber.

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