AGB portrait draws concern
Artist calls criticism short-sighted as sculpture is not yet halfway through production
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.