Alex Colville

Contemporary Responses


Colville Centennial Coins 2014 pigment print on archival paper Collection of the artist

William Eakin

Colville was my first idea of what a living artist was and what I might be. I had seen a travelling Vincent van Gogh exhibition in Winnipeg as a child but I didn't "get it." I "got" Colville instantly. —William Eakin

For this series, Winnipeg artist William Eakin (b. 1952) has created monumental photographs of Canadian coins designed by Alex Colville. The coins were commissioned by the Royal Canadian Mint to mark the country’s 100th birthday in 1967. Colville liked the idea of his art being a part of everyday life in Canada: the penny (dove) and the dime (mackerel) were at one time very common, yet very few Canadians knew they were carrying Colvilles around in their pockets. For this project, Eakin gathered together a full set by painstakingly searching through bags in coin dealers’ back rooms. His photographs of these worn and weathered pieces of currency remind us that these Colville coins were once in wide circulation.


Untitled 2014 4-channel sound Collection of the artist

Tim Hecker

Hecker is the world's most celebrated ambient musician still in his thirties. —SPIN magazine, 2013

The sound installation in Alex Colville by Canadian artist Tim Hecker (b. 1974, Vancouver) is a response to the psychological spaces the artist creates in his paintings. Hecker combines four distinct streams of audio to create an endless remix that – like a Colville work – suggests moods and unknown motivations. Hecker’s ambient sounds parallel Colville’s visual clarity, mixing precision with the unpredictable. In a 2013 SPIN magazine profile, Hecker described his breakthrough 2001 album, Haunt Me, Haunt Me Do It Again, as a more sincere kind of work, echoing Colville’s dedication to authenticity and indifference toward changes in style.


Colville Comics 2014 comic book Published by the Art Gallery of Ontario, 2014

David Collier

This is good stuff. Funny, weird & interesting drawing. —Celebrated cartoonist Robert Crumb in a note to David Collier, around 1976

A comic book on Alex Colville may seem like an odd pairing of art form and subject, but Canadian cartoonist David Collier (b. 1963, Windsor, Ont.) shares Colville’s commitment to delving into the deeper meanings embedded in the fragments of everyday life. His work also focuses on local stories and the lives of “ordinary” people. Exhaustively researched and richly realized, Collier’s comic explores the personal struggles of Colville and his family, Colville’s time at war, and the public reception of his art, all the while interweaving the cartoonist’s own biography. Collier is also a soldier. He has served two terms of service and, like Alex Colville, been an official War Artist for the Canadian Military.

Gu Xiong

We [students] were the horse, and the Chinese government was the train. We were on a collision course. —Gu Xiong

Vancouver artist Gu Xiong’s recollection of Alex Colville in China is a bold reminder of the international impact of Colville’s work. Along with many young Chinese artists studying in state-run schools in the 1980s, Gu Xiong (b. 1953, Chongqing) was profoundly moved by Colville’s paintings when they were exhibited in China in 1984. Gu Xiong recalls that Horse and Train (which the students called The Horse Massacre) was a potent image for the students, who saw the horse as a symbol of freedom. Looking back, this foreboding painting of a horse racing headlong into an oncoming train now seems like a chilling precursor to images that would emerge just a few years after its Beijing exhibition: of a lone man standing in front of a line of tanks on their way to Tiananmen Square.


Warden & McNicoll 2014 3-screen projection Courtesy Ronald Feldman Fine Arts

Simone Jones

“My favourite Colville paintings are the ones that are infused with a sense of danger and creepiness. He makes Canada seem slightly ominous and threatening – definitely not what I was used to seeing when I was growing up.” —Simone Jones

This installation by Toronto artist Simone Jones (b. 1966, Haliburton, Ont.) draws inspiration from Alex Colville as well as her own experiences growing up in Scarborough. Like Colville, Jones explores a single moment in time, hinting at a story but offering you no beginning or ending. In her three-screen projection in Alex Colville, she translates Colville’s small-town and rural settings to a suburban hydrocorridor, showing three distinct perspectives on a single charged event: a wrestling match between two boys. As demonstrated here, Jones shares with Colville an intense interest in the craft of image making and a heightened sense of precision and control.

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