Arnie hates Colville’s non-war artist stuff because it is so “cold” and analytical, mathematically planned out on graph paper — Colville’s wife recalls her husband telling her he had to “go measure the dog” — which is the whole reason I like it so much! Duh.
Serving in World War II was a profoundly affecting experience for Alex Colville. He was 22 years old when he enlisted in 1942, just out of university and newly married. He joined the Canadian Infantry and rose through the ranks to a commission as a second lieutenant. In 1944, he was flown to London to take an appointment as an official War Artist. Travelling to Yorkshire, the Mediterranean, the Netherlands and northern Germany, he worked meticulously to record what he saw: the men, the machines and the devastation. In April 1945, he was dispatched to the liberated Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in northern Germany, where he witnessed graphic evidence of the Holocaust that would haunt him for his entire life.
Colville’s style has influenced numerous filmmakers.
PS: Bite me, Warner Bros. for not giving AGO permission to show the four clips from The Shining that show Colville paintings.
Colville basically was a boring Canadian guy who had sex with maybe one woman in his whole life — his wife of 70 years. (They died six months apart.)
He didn’t wear funny crazy outfits or live in the big city or hang out with other “artistes” and use drugs.
This World Socialist Web Site does not approve:
The artist also played a notable political role, and was very public about his conservative (and Conservative) views. His service to the establishment’s project of establishing a Canadian cultural identity along with his indifference to the advances in modern art put him at odds with many of his contemporaries and attracted a good deal of criticism, for both good reasons and bad.
Decidedly rejecting the move to higher abstraction that characterized modern art in the 20th century, Colville worked within the traditions of artistic realism throughout his career, albeit overlaid with a stylization that was often disturbingly unreal. His extraordinarily fine renderings have invited such designations as magic-realist, super-realist or even photo-realist, but his simplified figures and settings belong as much to the traditions of the Precisionists in the US during the 1920s and 1930s, who were characterized by their highly controlled approach and use of clearly outlined and simple forms with plain surfaces and minimal detail.
The idea that Colville’s paintings are about justice was first suggested by George Grant, the arch-Canadian political philosopher. Grant dedicated his monumental work, English-Speaking Justice, as follows: “To Alex Colville and [the poet] Dennis Lee, two artists who have taught me about justice.” Grant does not expand on what Colville’s art has to say about justice, but Grant’s own ideas can perhaps provide some clues. (…)
Justice is not external to the self for Grant. In Grant’s terms, justice is the “inward harmony” which stems from human beings doing what they are fitted for – namely, living “well together in communities” and trying to “think openly about the nature of the whole” (…)
A Colville painting both etches a moment out of time and offers a lesson in geometry. Hellen Dow (1972: 33) explains:
“His paintings are rationally constructed on a mathematical system of harmonic proportions. The artist freely selects this modular arrangement, with the firm belief that by deliberately limiting his formal composition in this way, he actually gains freedom of expression. For it is only under the control of a rational order that he is free to achieve the highest and most profound possibilities of his art. ‘Limitation is freedom’ he declares.”
The declaration “Limitation is freedom” recalls to mind the vision of ordered liberty, or “peace, order and good government,” enshrined in the Canadian Constitution.
It also gives expression to one of the most fundamental preoccupations of the Canadian imaginary, the preoccupation with establishing limits, or borders.
[I]n the self-portrait Target Pistol and Man the artist locks eyes with the spectator, a target pistol lies on the table in the foreground. Some viewers perceive the latter picture as menacing or sinister, but this is because they are not contemplating it adequately. A target pistol is not designed to kill; it is designed to improve one’s concentration, one’s aim.
One of the best things about this exhibit was Colville Comics by David Collier, which is a biography of Colville by a modern day Canadian war artist/comic book creator. I bought a copy — very cool:
Colville very rarely did timely/”message” paintings, but this one is about the JFK assassination:
…the Chinese government, like so many others, was fooled by Colville’s everyday subject matter. “They probably thought it was ‘safe,’ a variety of the sort of socialist realism they were used to. Classic Colville: always sneaking in under your first impressions.” Like the horse in Church and Horse (1964), the painting Hunter thinks is most illustrative of Colville’s mix of local core and outside eruption, of menace and order. “The church, from the 1860s, old and rundown, is still there, near Hastings, N.S., but any local will tell you that horse is definitely not from around here.” The charger, which looks like it’s about to destroy the tottering remains of the past, is the riderless horse from John F. Kennedy’s funeral, an event Colville watched attentively on TV.
Otherwise, if I told you a lot of his paintings featured guns and naked women, you’d get the totally wrong idea about him.
This is… kinda wierd: