Contemporary Responses

William Eakin

For this series, Winnipeg artist William Eakin has created monumental photographs of Canadian coins designed by Alex Colville. The coins were commissioned by the Royal Canadian Mint to mark the country’s centenary in 1967. Colville liked the idea of his art being a part of everyday life in Canada: the penny (dove) and the dime (mackerel) were at one time very common, yet very few Canadians knew they were carrying Colvilles around in their pockets. For this project Eakin gathered together a full set by painstakingly searching through bags in coin dealers’ back rooms. His photographs of these worn and weathered pieces of currency remind us that these Colville coins were once in wide circulation.

Colville was my first idea of what a living artist was and what I might be. I had seen a travelling Vincent van Gogh exhibition in Winnipeg as a child but I didn't "get it." I "got" Colville instantly.

• William Eakin
Colville Centennial Coins, 2014, pigment prints on archival paper. Collection of the artist

Tim Hecker

Canadian artist Tim Hecker’s sound installation is a response to the psychological spaces in Alex Colville’s paintings. Here Hecker combines four distinct streams of audio to create an endless remix that – like a Colville work – suggests moods and unknown motivations. Hecker’s ambient sounds parallel Colville’s visual clarity, mixing precision with the unpredictable. In a 2013 SPIN magazine profile, the artist described his breakthrough 2001 album, Haunt Me, Haunt Me Do It Again, as a more sincere kind of work, echoing Colville’s dedication to authenticity and indifference toward changes in style.

Hecker is the world's most celebrated ambient musician still in his thirties.

• SPIN magazine, 2013
Untitled, 2014, 4-channel sound Collection of the artist.

David Collier

A comic book on Alex Colville may seem like an odd pairing of art form and subject, but Canadian cartoonist David Collier shares Colville’s commitment to delving into the deeper meanings embedded in the fragments of everyday life. His work also focuses on local stories and the lives of “ordinary” people. Exhaustively researched and richly realized, Collier’s comic explores the personal struggles of Colville and his family, Colville’s time at war, and the public reception of his art, all the while interweaving the cartoonist’s own biography. Collier is also a soldier. He has served two terms of service and, like Colville, been an official war artist for the Canadian Military.

his is good stuff. Funny, weird & interesting drawing.

• Cartoonist Robert Crumb in a note to David Collier, c. 1976
Colville Comics, 2014, comic book. Published by the Art Gallery of Ontario, 2014.

Gu Xiong

Vancouver artist Gu Xiong’s recollection of Alex Colville in China is a bold reminder of the international impact of Colville’s work. Along with many young Chinese artists studying in state-run schools in the 1980s, Gu Xiong was profoundly moved by Colville’s paintings when they were exhibited in China in 1984. Gu Xiong recalls that Horse and Train (which the students called The Horse Massacre) was a potent image for the students, who saw the horse as a symbol of freedom. Looking back, this foreboding painting of a horse racing headlong into an oncoming train now seems like a chilling precursor to images that would emerge just a few years after its Beijing exhibition: of a lone man standing in front of a line of tanks on their way to Tiananmen Square.

We [students] were the horse, and the Chinese government was the train. We were on a collision course.

• Gu Xiong

Simone Jones

This video installation by Simone Jones draws inspiration from Alex Colville as well as her own experiences growing up in Scarborough, a suburb of Toronto. Like Colville, Jones explores a single moment in time, hinting at a story but offering you no beginning or ending. In this three-screen projection, she translates Colville’s small-town and rural settings to a suburban hydro corridor, showing three distinct perspectives on a single charged event: a wrestling match between two boys. As shown here, Jones shares with Colville an intense interest in the craft of image making and a heightened sense of precision and control.

My favourite Colville paintings are the ones that are infused with a sense of danger and creepiness. He makes Canada seem slightly ominous and threatening – definitely not what I was used to seeing when I was growing up.

• Simone Jones
Warden & McNicoll, 2014, three-screen projection. Courtesy of Ronald Feldman Fine Arts.

© The National Gallery of Canada. All Rights Reserved    |   top