On any given day during the long, cold Montreal winter, familiar sounds can be heard riding the frigid wind. Voices in the distance shout out indistinct chatter. Ice skates carve deep grooves on the outdoor rink. The click of a hockey puck against hardwood incites a symphony of cheers as the memories of youth are instantly created. “An artist should be an ambassador to life,” says Montreal artist Carlo Cosentino. “He takes a moment in time, he makes time stop and that moment becomes an image. In turn that image will become a memory you hold for all your life.” Cosentino truly is the custodian of memories. The prolific painter and sculptor recreates on canvas the iconic winter scenes most Canadians have experienced. For over 20 years, he has produced hundreds of paintings capturing the essence of a style known as Canadiana.
Born in Montreal in 1958, Cosentino is the son of Italian immigrants; his father arrived from the region of Calabria while his mother hails from Campobasso. The newcomers met and settled, as many others did, in the neighbourhood of Little Italy. “My father was my earliest inspiration. He was taking classes at L’École des Beaux Arts. I used to go through all his sketchbooks. This was my introduction to the great master painters,” Cosentino fondly recalls.
It was from this first impression that Cosentino decided to study art. He attended the Studio Salette for two years. At 15, he designed the official logo of his high school, Antoine de Saint-Exupery. His formative years were spent at College Ahuntsic where he studied illustration and design. “I started knocking on doors three to four months before I graduated and this proved to be a good strategy,” remembers Cosentino.
The young graduate’s foresight landed him employment with the prestigious CBS graphics firm. Cosentino focused on the commercial aspect of his craft, working as an illustrator and storyboard artist. Three years passed, and then what Cosentino describes as his “big break” occurred. He secured work with lucrative sponsorship projects. This work included everything from creating posters for the Montreal Manic soccer club to painting portraits of legendary Formula One racer Gilles Villeneuve. Cosentino’s talent also earned him the role of official bronze sculptor for the Montreal Expos.In 1991, Cosentino decided to make the progression from the commercial arts to the fine arts. Since then, he has earned dozens of awards and accolades for his landscape compositions. “I had high expectations for myself,” explains Cosentino. “When I made the transition to painting, I realized it would be a totally different game. But I was prepared to make every painting that I finished even better than the last.”
His work highlighting Montreal’s boroughs and districts presents the viewer with a particular timeline of the area. It’s a capsule capturing the history and iconography of a scene. Any particular painting allows the exploration of details otherwise unseen or unnoticed. Cosentino’s stylistic approach is to capture the luminous qualities that nature provides. Whether it is a backdrop of industrial buildings or the flow of the St. Lawrence River, for Cosentino lighting is the key component. “These elements are essential to portray the soul of the city and the character of a certain street corner or district. I try to capture the drama that the sun evokes on objects. They may be characters in an action shot or a smoke stack in the distance… I will try to translate the mood.”
The painter makes it a habit to explore the city searching for inspiring historical structures, documenting and recording for posterity. “Those places, those buildings, they might disappear one day. It’s important that we remember and keep a testament for the future, but also preserve our heritage,” he says. “Every painting I complete is an extension of myself and my upbringing as an Italian-Canadian. If I have a small part… in this grand artistic design… in this great country, this is what makes me proud.”