"[...] I guess my aim as an artist is, in Joseph Conrad's words, 'to do the highest justice to reality.' " Alex Colville

Alex Colville was born in Toronto in 1920 and moved with his family to Amherst, Nova Scotia as a child. He attended Mount Allison University from 1938 to 1942, obtaining a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. After finishing his studies, Colville married Rhoda Wright in 1942 and enlisted in the Canadian Army that same year, serving in the infantry until 1946. He eventually earned the rank of lieutenant and worked as an official war artist from May 1944 to 1946. Coville painted in Yorkshire and took part in the Royal Canadian Navy’s landings in southern France, then was attached to the 3rd Canadian Division. During his tours of Netherlands and Germany, he was tasked with depicting the horrors of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

 

After the war, Colville returned to New Brunswick and became employed by the Faculty of Fine Arts at Mount Allison University. He resigned in 1963 to devote his time and energy entirely to painting and printmaking. He worked full time from his home studio on York Street, now known as the Colville House. The National Gallery of Canada explains, “his paintings are characterized by a latent anxiety; an example is Child and Dog, in which the juxtaposition of a blond child and a large black dog with pronounced claws creates a feeling of unease. Nearly a third of Colville's works involve animals, particularly domestic animals; Hound in Field is a perfect illustration of this affinity. The famous image of a couple crossing the Straits of Northumberland, To Prince Edward Island, reveals a number of themes that recur in Colville's work: means of transportation, the sea, the relationship between a couple; but he also uses the woman with the binoculars to illustrate the power inherent in a gaze, the dynamic that exists between the person looking and the person being looked at, who in turn is looking back at the gazer.”

 

Coville’s paintings represented Canada in the Venice Biennale along with the work of Yves Gaucher and Sorel Etrog in 1966. The following year, Colville was made an Officer of the Order of Canada, elevated to Companion in 1982, the order's highest level. Major retrospectives were held at the Art Gallery of Ontario in 1983 and at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in 1994. He won a Governor General's Visual and Media Arts Award in 2003.

 

Colville’s wife, Rhoda, died on December 29, 2012 and Colville himself died shortly after on July 16, 2013 at his home in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. He was 92-years-old.

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