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Fresh perspective on the work of Alex Colville offered at the National Gallery of Canada
Alex Colville, Soldier and Girl at Station, 1953. Glazed tempera on hardboard, 40.6 x 61 cm. The Thomson Collection, Art Gallery of Ontario © A.C. Fine Art Inc. Photo © AGO.

OTTAWA.- From April 23 to September 7, 2015, the National Gallery of Canada’s premier summer exhibition will captivate visitors with a fresh perspective on the work of Alex Colville, one of Canada’s most celebrated artists.

The exhibition, organized by the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) with the collaboration of the National Gallery, is the largest Colville retrospective ever shown. Presented first at the AGO in 2014, Alex Colville was the best-attended Canadian exhibition in the museum’s history.

“We are proud to bring Alex Colville to Ottawa for our summer season, after its spectacular run in Toronto, with an additional display of a series of preparatory drawings, which the artist gave to the National Gallery in 2013. These will be shown for the very first time,” said NGC director and CEO Marc Mayer. “Colville’s paintings possess a peculiar intensity and a crisp style of brushwork, as he probes deeply into the essence of the moment he is depicting,” added Mr. Mayer.

With more than 250 paintings, sketches, prints and drawings – including 17 works from the National Gallery’s collection and more than 100 preparatory drawings from the National Gallery of Canada Library and Archives – the exhibition brings into focus Colville’s aesthetics, born out of the residual scars of his experience in war. Charting a course through five main sections that explore the complete career of this Maritime painter, Alex Colville begins on the front lines of the Second World War and moves though the artist’s life and times.

David Alexander Colville was born in Toronto on August 24, 1920. In 1929, his family moved to Amherst, Nova Scotia. After receiving his Bachelor of Fine Arts from Mount Allison University in 1942, he married Rhoda Wright, and enlisted in the Canadian Army. Following the war, he taught drawing and painting at Mount Allison University from 1946 until 1963, when he retired to paint full-time.

Though most of his peers had turned to abstraction, Colville remained true to his own style. He steadily rose to the top of the art world through the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, exhibiting across Canada, Europe and Asia, and representing Canada at the prestigious Venice Biennale. His paintings inspired constant debate and controversy: some critics hailed him as “the most important realist painter of the Western world” and “the best Canadian artist of his time,” while others dismissed his work as “regional” and “mediocre.” Still, the accolades were plentiful: honorary degrees, prizes, a Governor General’s Award and an appointment to the Order of Canada. In 1973, Alex and Rhoda moved to her childhood home in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. Colville died on July 16, 2013, just seven months after Rhoda’s death.

Colville’s iconic paintings present scenes of everyday Canadian life. However, there is something about his work that leaves viewers intrigued, and often uneasy. Meticulously realized, Colville’s images suggest something beyond the moment. They hint at intimacy, vulnerability and potential menace. With this haunting mix of the ordinary and the extraordinary, Colville deftly directs our focus to the uncertainty of everyday appearances and experiences. Exploring issues of anxiety and control, trust and love, Colville’s particular view of the world is profound.

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