Remembering Alex Colville

Anna Horsnell

Alex Colville was born on August 24, 1920. He passed away in 2013. His was a long and storied life in the world of visual art, a master artist distinguished by the exacting realism of his paintings as well as the consistent subject matter. His art was easily accessible and yet often endued with a question or unsettling juxtaposition. Now, as then, Colville is one of Canada’s most celebrated artists.

Innumerable essays, articles, and books have been written about Colville and his work, his years as a war artist, his time at Mount Allison University in Sackville, and his influence on others inspired by his art. In 1973, he and his wife moved to Wolfville, and this place became the setting for many of his iconic paintings. He knew this place, studied it, and was inspired by it. This Valley was home and would become his final resting place.

Colville served as chancellor of Acadia University between 1981 and 1991. University Gallery Director Dr. Laurie Dalton, remembers the artist well, “Alex Colville had such a generosity of spirit. I remember curating an exhibition of his work at the Acadia University Art Gallery over 12 years ago now, and he invited me to visit his studio. What a treat that was for a young curator. He then invited me to sit and have a glass of sherry as we spoke about his artwork. It was a special day I have not soon forgotten. His artwork, both personal yet universal, has left a lasting impact on Canadian art.”

Lynda Macdonald, owner of Harvest Gallery in Wolfville, also shared her memories of Colville, “I had the great fortune to know Alex Colville and have represented his work since 2004. When I was just starting out, I reached out to him to seek his counsel on what set a good gallery apart from the rest. He and Rhoda invited me to tea. He was generous with both his time and his advice and made a big impact on me personally and professionally. He is an iconic Canadian artist and his work remains as relevant today as when it was created.”

Whether you know the artist, in all probability you know his art. Such pieces as To Prince Edward Island, Horse and Train, and Hound in Field are etched in our memory through intent or by chance. Other paintings such as Low Tide, Seven Crows, and French Cross include landscapes and landmarks we recognize from the very countryside around the Minas Basin.

Remembering Alex Colville this month, more than anything, we remember his art. We are still moved by his art. That alone is a mark of excellence, something most artists can only aspire to achieve.

Image: “Woman on Ramp,” Alex Colville, 2007. Printed with permission.