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 Diana Billings Art Blog


Alex Colville was a Canadian artist with great accomplishments, an artist who wanted to live a simple life and paint what he felt. David Alexander Colville born in Toronto, Ontario, on August 24th, 1920. He attended Mount Allison University in New Brunswick receiving a Bachelor of Fine Art in 1942. After university he joined the Canadian Army and became a war artist until 1944. He then went on to teach art at Mount Allison University. As a teacher he strongly encouraged students to learn not from his style but of the techniques of the past, the way he had learned when he attended university. Alex Colville was a husband, father, war artist, teacher, film maker and an incredible artist.

Alex Colville during his time as a war artist.

Unfortunately I am not using any of his images as all his work is still under copy-write. So I encourage you to take a look at his website listed below in sources. You will find the multitude of awards, honorary degrees and accomplishments.

Alex Colville liked the life in small town Canada. He preferred to live a simple life, rather than in a city like many other artists, living in the high art world. This was not for him, he had a very strong idea of what he wanted and followed though on this. Alex’s style is unique to him, partly because of his own ideas and not wanting influence from other artists, so the small town life was ideal for him. You can recognize his work anywhere. Alex really wanted to paint in his own way, his ideas. He was always looking for ways to portray life and the human experience. The small town environment suited him well, he found more than enough subjects to draw and paint. He worked singularly on one piece of art at a time. Somewhat obsessive in his approach. It is was well known he produced many drawings and sketches methodically for each painting, using geometry and intuition to put the composition together. Alex liked to control all aspects of his art from making, preparing all his panels, to finishing each painting with it’s own frame. That way, his finished work was “just so”, exactly how he wanted it.

Alex Colville was a modern realist. His work was meticulous, full of myth and metaphors. His subjects often appear to be quite simple, but once you really start looking you see there is so much more going on in each of his paintings. Underlying mysteries. Take his painting, “Church and Horse” 1964. What is going on here, a horse in a church yard, why is it running and where is it going? Where is the owner? Why in the church yard- why not a stable or farm a yard? Plus what is with this stark white almost eerie church? It’s such a lonely church. All his paintings evoke questions and examinations. Alex Colville is a master of query, mystery and metaphors.

Another aspect of Alex Colville paintings is that his subjects are three dimensional and his surroundings are often two dimensional. His pallets were often subtle, soft and muted. His studies of the old masters of European art at university had paid off for him, he understood technique better than anyone. He was an expert at using tempera paint. Alex loved the fact it was so smooth, the flat texture contributes to the emotional feel, look and finish of his paintings.

Alex has been a direct influence on other artists, film maker and musicians. In Rihannas’ 2016 music video “ Needed Me” she is standing looking out a large window. Michael Mans’ film “Heat” a shot of a man looking out of a large widow from behind. Both resemble Alex Colvilles’ painting “Pacific”1967. Other films said to have been influenced are: No Country for Old Men, A Serious Man, The Shining, and the light house seen in Wes Cravens “ Moonrise Kingdom”.

My paintings occur when I think of two desperate elements” Alex Colville

I’ve never been associated with any kind of artist’s group. In fact I find the idea deeply distasteful” Alex Colville.

Alex Colville has received many awards and honorary degrees, including The Order of Canada and The Governor General’s award in Visual Arts and Media Arts. He had many exhibitions and solo shows around the world. His work has been on exhibited in Canada and across the world in Paris, London, Beijing, Rotterdam, Vienna, Berlin, New York and many other cities. We even have artwork of his at our own Art Gallery of Alberta. He is by far one of Canada’s greatest artists.

In November, 2010 the painting “Man on Veranda” sold at auction for $1.2million dollars. This was the highest price paid for a painting by a Canadian artist up to this date. Alex Colville was 90 years old when this painting sold, he lived to 92 passing away July 13, 2013

You can find more about Alex Colville on his website:

There are a number interviews with Alex Colville on YouTube. YouTube also has art curators talking about Alex Colville and his art. In 2000 CBC made a documentary about Alec Colville on their program “Life and Times” it is episode 17 in season 5, this aired on October 31, 2000. I have bee unable to find the documentary.

Keep well, Diana

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