Eric Aldwinckle was born in 1909 at Oxford, England. He moved to Canada in 1922 and worked as a graphic artist until he enlisted with the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1942. The self-taught artist was first employed on camouflage duties in Eastern Canada.
In 1943, Aldwinckle was sent overseas as an official war artist. He later wrote of the assignment: “I had some vague idea of damning machines and glorifying the man, but I find the machine, whose lines come from the mind of man, beautiful. So I paint planes and love it. I also paint the men and love them, too.”
Living with the airmen affected him deeply, and he grew to respect their quiet courage. In a letter home he wrote, “Our Yorkshire roommate was just leaving for a (bombing) raid. Didn’t want to go, but was cheery and dryly philosophical about it. Arranged to have lunch with us the following day. Those simple arrangements are more significant to them than handshakes or “good luck”, which no one uses. They try to carry on as if they were just going for a dirty bus ride, which might have an accident. Otherwise they would probably crack.”
In my favourite painting by the artist, titled The Survivor, bold hues smash from the 60 1/2-inch-by-30-inch canvas. A solitary airman stands flaming with colour, and with his masterful palette Aldwinckle unlocks the deep reasons behind every young flyer’s simple “arrangements.” Then, with unerring skill, he could shift to a softer palette and give us majestic cloud formations. The results are canvases of serene beauty. Battlefield is the name he wryly gave to one of his skyscapes.
During his 2 1/2 years in Europe, Aldwinckle painted the coastal and bomber commands on duty in the British Isles. He also recorded tactical fighter activity in Northwest Europe.
Decades after the war, in an interview with the Canadian War Museum, Aldwinckle said, “The war for me was an experience that I couldn’t buy and I didn’t have to kill people. I just had to paint… the beauty of war. There wasn’t much beauty in it….”
Aldwinckle found what little beauty there was and today his contributions are among the finest paintings in the Canadian collection. He died in Toronto on Jan. 13, 1980.
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