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Friday, 12 June 2015

Alex Colville

On the Lookout, my Colville inspired acrylic painting showing my daughter

Blog 23

Last week, I mentioned to you that June is a prime month for weddings and told you the story behind the portrait I did of my husband and I on our wedding day. Remembering the moment, made me think about a Canadian painter and his 70 year marriage to to his university sweetheart Rhoda. I am talking about Alex Colville whose paintings are currently installed at the national Gallery of Canada in Ottawa. This is the largest show of his work ever put together. It contains many works from private collectors. The exhibition runs until September 7, 2015.

Rhoda Wright and Alex Colville met at Mount Allison University where they both studied art. At first, she was not too impressed with him but then they found out that they had much to talk about. What started out as a friendship turned into a deep love that grew with the years they spent together. Rhoda was not only Alex’ wife and mother of their four children, she also was his primary model and muse.

While it is clear that Rhoda was the model for most of his female characters, she did not feel very comfortable about being nude in many of the paintings according to an interview with Anne Kitz, the couple’s only daughter. However, she could not stand the idea of other women posing nude for her husband.

Many of his paintings explore the relationship between women and men. Colville often painted himself next to his wife. You get a glimpse into their relationship but he still manages to give the viewer the feeling that the people in the image are generic, it could be any other couple in the Colvilles’ spot as the people often turn their back or look away from the viewer.

Rhoda loved nature and was an avid athlete, a fact Alex Colville documented in his paintings. He painted her in all stages of life. You can feel the love and respect he had for his wife. Even though her body gets old and loses shape, she still is beautiful in his eyes and he manages to capture this in his paintings.

The exhibition is definitely a must-see for any art lovers, whether you are a fan of Alex Colville or not. I do not like his painting style and except for “Woman with Terrier” could not imagine acquiring one if his paintings for myself but I admire his compositional skills and cannot resist the pull of his art. Going through the exhibition, I feel like experiencing a big love confession from Alex Colville to his wife, giving us a view into their life and the intimacy of their relationship over the seven decades.

However, this is only one aspect of the exhibition. Not all the paintings show his love for his wife and the life they share together with their animals in their quiet neighbourhood. There are also paintings which leave you rather uncomfortable, where the air is filled with the suspense of what has happened or will happen, images which deal with the subject of power, trust, and mortality. They give you a feeling of watching a Hitchcock movie when the music gets dramatic and you know something bad is going to happen. Your imagination goes wild, and the excitement rises.

With his art, Alex Colville manages successfully to show both the dark side and mystery of life as well as its beauty and joy.

It is very interesting and inspiring that Alex Colville considers all ordinary things important enough as a subject for painting. I have to remember this during our next outing when we are looking for the “perfect” spot to paint. Often, we spend a lot of time searching for this spot. When you are in nature, you experience an information overload. However, often painting a simple scene has a much stronger impact than getting lost in the big picture.
One of the appeals of Alex Colville’s paintings is that he paints situations everyone can recognize. I can relate to his paintings because he paints what he loves and respects, and what captures his interest. I have been asked a couple of times why I do not paint what the audience is looking for, and I have always answered that I can only paint what attracts me and what I love because every painting contains also a part of me. I can only put energy in my paintings if they reflect my true self. This is something I always tell me students. It is wonderful to admire your neighbour’s art but everyone is different and that is why everyone’s art should be different. Similarities are possible, especially if you spent a lot of time painting together because you definitely influence each other but if you look carefully, you will feel the different energy depending on the painter’s personality.

Have you seen the exhibition already? If so, what was your impression? If not, are you planning to go? Why? Please feel free to leave a comment, either on my blog site or on my Facebook or Google+ page.

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