Thursday, September 10, 2009

What Is Life Like?

Canadian artist Alex Colville (b.1920-) attempted to answer this protean question through his art. His answer manifested in a long series of carefully calculated, measured and executed paintings that in spite of their real-life subject matter convey a surreal trice, as if unveiling a déjà vu.

Coleville works on his paintings for months at a time, vigilantly studying his subject. Prior to beginning work on the final piece, he is known to produce numerous sketches in which he carefully measures and modifies the composition by varying degrees. In some instances Coleville has been known to chase his own dog’s tail with a measuring ruler in an attempt to figure out its placement in his upcoming painting. His sketches look more like an engineer’s draft than an artists drawing, but then he adds color and a painting comes alive with the vivid sense of always having been there, just the way it is, in real life.

How can the viewer reconcile the effortless subject matter of Coleville’s paintings with the laborious process by which it is achieved?

The time Coleville spends contemplating his chosen scene reveals to him a many faceted reality. He becomes a master on the subject sort-of-speak, able to reconcile the complexity and essence of his landscape in the span of a brush stroke. Coleville’s paintings reveal a sense of stillness and quiet to the viewer that can only be realized through meditation. The scenes in Coleville’s work is familiar from your own everyday life but in a way that you’ve never seen before, because you’ve never taken the time to look at it for long enough.

IMAGES: 1965 Alex Colville painting "To Prince Edward Island" National Gallery of Canada., 1991 Alex Colville painting "Dog and Groom"., 1991 Alex Colville study "Dog and Groom".