Ice Harvest is the largest and the most subtly complex of his treatments. Thick blocks of ice, thousands of them, were cut and dragged from the frozen St. Lawrence River every winter in Montreal—as in most places across Canada—to be stored until the summer, when they would be sold to stock the iceboxes found in most homes, keeping families’ food safe from the heat. It was, then, a simple but central activity of the culture. Cullen has shown the harvesting at a point near Longueuil, with the city of Montreal on the far horizon, a shimmering, pulsing benefactor of the frozen crop. The sky above is unbelievably rich, an almost creamy, shifting blend of light in clouds, smoke and steam, observed in remarkable detail and expressed with the finest artistry. The ice-covered river, too, is an amazing chorus of blues, as the light shines off and through the cut ice and the piles and drifts of snow. But the memorable force of the work resides in the dark, rich, huddled mass of horses at the lower centre, and, most importantly, in the two-pronged gap of open water revealed by the cutting tools, a diagonal force of subtle strength that sets the whole image abuzz like a tuning fork.
This is an article from the Spring 2012 issue of Canadian Art. To read more from this issue, please visit its table of contents.