Alex Colville at the AGO until January 4, 2015

By Andrea Wrobel


Professor of Romance Languages (1973)

Ever feel like you’ve walked into someone else’s life? Their inner most thoughts and emotions plastered on the wall in beautiful brushed form? I was pleasantly surprised but the deep sentiment that reverberated off the white walls as I walked through the largest collection of Alex Colville work to date.
Who is Alex Colville? I didn’t know either, and I’m happy to have had the chance to experience life – what it is to live – with him… er… his work. The Canadian painter died last year at age 92 and, less a memorial and more a celebration, the Art Gallery of Ontario is letting you in to his dark and anxious – beautiful – world.
Alex’s daughter, Ann, spoke at the exhibit’s media preview saying that, if her father were there, he’d give some “wonderfully eloquent remarks.” Believing myself to be unfamiliar with his work, I thought about crisp lines and conventional subjects based on what she’d just said. An all around put-together man who’d give “eloquent remarks” at his own art show.
“How nice,” I thought.
But as I walked through the gallery, it is the distinct feeling of inability that, perhaps, makes him such a renowned artist; the inability to keep all your own impotences tucked away nice. His work is engulfing.

Traveller (1992)

The dark corners of your life emerge in Colville’s art. The idocycratic activities we experience every day take form. The dreams – the nightmares – materialize. The times between dusk and dark begin to surface. The tension is palpable. These passing moments we often experience all to ourselves are effervescent and very present in Colville’s work and, in turn, this exhibit. It’s equal parts overwhelming and appeasing. We’re not as alone in our own heads when someone shares these internal experiences so perfectly.
The best part of Colville’s work is how personal it felt to me. How I recognized it. I recognized it because he’s become such a visual icon in the creative landscape. Unbeknowst to me, his work is reflected in films like Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom and the Coen Brothers’ No Country For Old Men. It hangs on the walls in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. Colville’s work embodies possibility. We don’t know which way the subjects will lean, but their stories we can create.

Colville’s To Prince Edward Island (1965)


Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

The AGO put together a great online exhibit of sorts for Alex Colville if you can’t make it to the gallery. Check out Welcome to Colville… but, if this blob proves anything, paintings really are far more immersive in person.
Soldier and Girl at Station (1953)

Soldier and Girl at Station (1953)

Moon and Cow (1963)

Moon and Cow (1963)

Kiss with Honda (1989)

Kiss with Honda (1989)

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