Monday, August 8, 2011

Monday Inspiration:Alex Colville

Alex Colville, French Cross, 1988, (source)

Alex Colville, Soldier and Girl at Station,  1953, (source)

Alex Colville, Prize Cow, (source)
Alex Colville is a great Canadian Artist- and I would guess is mostly unknown by Canadians- (I didn't know about him until art school)  he's responsible for some of our more artful coins- the centennial ones, with the lone animals on them- you can see them here. He was a war artist, and part of the east coast realist scene, His paintings are part of the fabric of our country (and worth quite a respectable chunk of change), and these are all reasons to know the man, but I love his work for it's subject matter.

The ambiguity of the scenes he chooses to paint- the moments that he captures all have a liminal feeling to them- as though they are just on the cusp of the action, right after or right before the sh*t hits the fan. The quality of light in his works is ethereal and transcendent, The way that the subjects are painted is dream like, they remind me of the way the world feels when seen through a dense fog. These paintings make me mindful of the magical qualities that can happen in paintings, the worlds you can create, and become entranced by.


  1. Caution: uninformed comment/opinion about to be stated. I'm curious - do you know/think he painted from photos, or would it be from memory, from models, and a combination? I almost always imagined paintings of creatures and people are created with the creature or person in front of the artist. But I'm learning it's different for different artists. How often would you say an artist paints "from life" and how often is it after the event/meeting with the subject? And really - I wonder if it matters, or if it's just a question of the viewer's preference. Like - I prefer to know something about the bias of authors of works of science fiction. But I don't care about the bias of authors of works of romance. Weird, but that's my personal preference. Do you think that an artist has a right to keep the approach to their work private? Except you can see that sometimes, the artist's approach (or bias, or angle) is the selling point for some fans of art works. They are a fan or they own certain works of art for the 'message' behind the work, rather than for its inherent qualities. Statements of ownership, versus artistic appreciation divorced of message. (I'm mixing philosophical discussions about art here, aren't I?)

  2. More about Colville's Process here-

    I think the process that an artist uses is less of a bias than the background of the artist- even the gender of the artist affects the viewers 'reading' of the work. Imagine that Alex Colville was a woman- the subtext of anxiety in his work would shift, or for that matter Imagine that Georgia O'Keefe was a lesbian feminist- well it kinda changes those Subconciously vaginal flower paintings right?

    Whether it's right or it's wrong your background as an artist will shift the perception of your work to the viewer who is curious- or to the art critic who will use your background as a means of de-coding your work.

    We used to talk about that in art school-How the heck do we know what Matisse meant when he painted his wife's face green. Once you make a work and it leaves you it's sort of out of your hands- if it's good work it's into the critics hands who will talk about the meaning of the colour blue- even if you just used it because it was the cheapest tube of paint you could buy.