Alex Colville’s iconic paintings present scenes of everyday Canadian life. But there’s something about his work that leaves you intrigued, and often uneasy. Meticulously realized, Colville’s images suggest something beyond the moment. They hint at intimacy, vulnerability and potential menace. With this haunting mix of the ordinary and the extraordinary, Colville deftly directs our focus to the uncertainty of everyday appearances and experiences. Exploring issues of anxiety and control, trust and love, Colville’s particular view of the world is profound.

It’s the ordinary things that seem important to me.

• Alex Colville

Pop Culture Pairing

To Prince Edward Island (1965) and Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
Filmmaker Wes Anderson’s film Moonrise Kingdom is rife with visual references to Colville’s works. Set in 1965 New England, Anderson’s film is decidedly nostalgic in look and feel. Standing on the observation deck of a lighthouse, Suzy brings a pair of binoculars to her face, determined to see beyond her small-town life. The woman in Colville’s painting seems to share Suzy’s resolute look. Both Anderson and Colville use the binoculars as a device: they point the lenses directly at you, compelling you to face the scrutiny of the subject’s sustained gaze. For Colville, this scene expresses the active and intuitive power of a woman’s vision: “The woman sees, I suppose, and the man does not.”

Sam: Why do you always use binoculars?

Suzy: It helps me see things closer. I pretend it's my magic power.

• Wes Anderson, Moonrise Kingdom

To Prince Edward Island

Alex Colville, To Prince Edward Island, 1965, acrylic emulsion on Masonite, 61.9 × 92.5 cm. Collection of the National Gallery of Canada (no. 14954). Purchased 1966.

Moonrise Kingdom

Moonrise Kingdom, 2012, film still. © 2012 Moonrise LLC.

A Visual Voice for Canada

A look at Alex Colville’s popular appeal, with insight from his friends and Canadian art experts.

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