Historic Art | Alex Colville

About the Artist

Alexander Colville, painter (b at Toronto 24 Aug 1920). Alex Colville moved with his family to Amherst, NS, in 1929 and studied at Mount Allison (1938-42). On graduating he joined the army and in 1944 was sent to Europe as a war artist. He returned to Canada late in 1945 and worked in Ottawa on paintings based on his European sketches and watercolours until his demobilization in 1946. Colville taught at Mount Allison 1946-63, when he resigned to devote himself to painting. Between 1952 and 1955 the Hewitt Gallery in New York gave Colville his earliest commercial exhibitions. The most substantial Canadian support for his work at this time came from the National Gallery of Canada, which acquired 7 of his paintings in the 1950s.

The 1950 painting Nude and Dummy marks the transition from the reportage of Colville's war pictures to a personal creative direction. His subject matter is invariably chosen from his immediate environment: his family, the animals he keeps, the landscape near his home. The representations, however, are never simply a recording of the everyday; they are highly representational reflections of a world which is at once filled with the joyful and the beautiful, the disturbing and the dangerous. Alex Colville has changed his medium a number of times, from oil to tempera to oil and synthetic resin, and after 1963 to acrylic polymer emulsion. He follows a long, careful process for each composition, taking precise measurements and proportioning these to an underlying geometric scheme. He works on only one composition at a time, and since the 1950s has produced only 3 or 4 paintings or serigraphs a year.

The first retrospective of his work was held at the Art Gallery of Ontario in 1983 and subsequently travelled in Canada. In 1984 and 1985 the exhibition toured in Germany and the Far East, including Japan, the first time that an exhibition of the work of a living Canadian artist had been seen in that country. A major exhibition of his work done since 1984 was held at the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal in 1994 and in 2000 an exhibition was mounted at the National Gallery of Canada to mark his 80th birthday. In 2003 the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia organized the touring exhibition Alex Colville: Return, Paintings Drawings and Prints 1994-2002.

In 1966 Alex Colville represented Canada at the Venice Biennale. He was visiting professor at University of California at Santa Cruz in 1967 and in 1971 spent 6 months as a visiting artist in Berlin. He has served on numerous boards and commissions. He designed the Centennial coins, minted in 1967, and the Governor General's Medal, in 1978. In 1984 a film, Alex Colville - The Splendour of Order was produced by Minerva Films. He has lived in the small university town of Wolfville, NS, since 1973 and was chancellor of Acadia University for ten years. In 1982 he was made a Companion of the Order of Canada and in 2003 he received the Governor General's Award in Visual and Media Arts. He continues to live and work in Wolfville, NS.

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