In Memory of Alex Colville (24 August 1920–16 July 2013)
Collection of the Library and Archives, National Gallery of Canada
"I see life as inherently dangerous. I have an essentially dark view of the world and human affairs…Anxiety is the normality of our age."
One of Canada’s most celebrated artists, Alex Colville passed away on Tuesday July 16th, at the age of 92, at his home in Wolfville, N.S.
Painter, draughtsman, engraver and muralist, Alex Colville always remained aloof from the formal trends that characterized the 20th century. Drawing his inspiration from the world around him, from the most repetitive gestures of everyday life, he placed his unsettling juxtapositions of figures, objects and animals in an ambiguous atmosphere of disquieting tranquillity, as though time were suspended. His compositions are rigorously constructed according to a precise geometry and executed with a technique that consists of minuscule dabs of paint applied meticulously dot by dot.
Born in Toronto, Colville moved as a boy to Amherst, Nova Scotia with his family. After his studies at Mount Allison University, he served in the army from 1942 to 1946, working as a military artist from 1944 to 1946. He then taught at university, but left in 1963 to devote himself completely to painting. In the 1950s, his approach became associated with that of certain American artists, such as Andrew Wyeth, who are considered regionalists. His paintings are characterized by a latent anxiety; an example is Child and Dog, in which the juxtaposition of a blond child and a large black dog with pronounced claws creates a feeling of unease. Nearly a third of Colville's works involve animals, particularly domestic animals; Hound in Field is a perfect illustration of this affinity. The famous image of a couple crossing the Straits of Northumberland, To Prince Edward Island, reveals a number of themes that recur in Colville's work: means of transportation, the sea, the relationship between a couple; but he also uses the woman with the binoculars to illustrate the power inherent in a gaze, the dynamic that exists between the person looking and the person being looked at, who in turn is looking back at the gazer.
Over his long career, Colville's fame grew and he received many honours. Major retrospectives of his work were held at the Art Gallery of Ontario in 1983 and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in 1994. He was made a Companion of the Order of Canada in 1982, and won a Governor General's Visual and Media Arts Award in 2003.