A posthumous retrospective


by Gary John Gresl

John N. Colt taught at UW Milwaukee from 1957 to 1990 when he retired as Professor Emeritus. He had continued the family’s artist tradition, as his father, Arthur Colt, had been teacher and mentor thru his decades-old Colt School of Art. John is often spoken of by his students with affection, and the many admirers of his paintings recognize his work as unique, singular without being quirky, eccentric or sweet. John found his own language in terms of subject, technique…or if you prefer, language.

Natural forms…barely discernible, sketched lightly and hidden within broad swathes of thinly washed bright color. Pond life; tide pools; moths and chameleon like creatures… Here and there some living thing stands out more boldly, or perhaps it is just a suggestion of that life form…a wing, an outline…a leg or antennae.

The University of Wisconsin Union Gallery has held a posthumous retrospective of John’s work, which closed on October 12th. Shown there were several bolder impasto paintings from the 50’s…and one transitional piece in particular, which points to his later, more ethereal, paintings in which the canvas is revealed thru the washes of paint. That canvas is more than a vehicle for paint. It becomes the sand, the water…the air in which John’s precious ephemeral creatures reside.

The UWM exhibit organizers state the following: “He is considered one of the most important Wisconsin artists of the 20th Century.” It is my humble opinion that this statement is true…but that his soft diaphanous expressions set him outside most movements of the mid to late 20th Century. He had his own form of Magic Realism…one dependant on affection for the overlooked life forms which serve as metaphors for the state of existence on this planet. His soft brushwork and stained canvases, themselves vaporous and transparent, suggest the ephemeral nature of our time on this planet.