Alex Colville: Paintings and drawings

This exhibition catalog and the paintings themselves once saved me. And then they have encouraged and accompanied me for many years, actually to this very day. There is hardly another book which I have leafed through, read, looked at and admired so unwaveringly.
At first glance, Canadian painter Alex Colville — a cosmopolitan who spent most of the nearly 93 years of his life far removed from the arts scene and the world’s clamor, in Wolfville, a tiny town of about 4000 souls on Nova Scotia — seems to have painted entirely everyday situations: A mother getting into a car with her children, just as a storm is nearing. A few crows flying along the banks of a river. A boy returning home from school and greeting his dog. A couple looking, presumably after making love, out of a window, at the snow.
But this deceptive safety of the habitual immediately dissolves. It is true that Colville observes reality very closely, but he does so in order to construct it in an entirely new way, condensing it to create ample, forceful, lucid, always also disconcerting narratives about life that ultimately retain their mystery.
In the light of a steadily perceptible endangerment, the protagonists of his paintings search for stability — like the painter himself and also the viewer. With concentration, quietly, entirely abandoning themselves to a peaceful, everyday moment. One cannot find more than this deep but futile comfort in such a brittle, confusing world.
Colville’s intense experiences of literature frequently influenced his pictorial narrator’s perspective, even though, making use of a stupendous and very time-consuming technique and, especially, his magical pictorial spaces that occasionally almost force the imagination, he managed to penetrate dimensions far beyond those graspable by language.
I saw his paintings for the first time 31 years ago, on a trip to Berlin. I was a young, insecure student at the Academy, often filled with doubts about my own truth amidst my numerous fellow students, who were claiming art and originality within the shortest time and with chutzpah, a fierce attitude and a broad brush. At that moment, something healed, and I was much more sure of what I wanted to go in search of and why, even in these times.

Published in: Kanon der Literatur (Literary Canon)
Buchmenschen (Book People)
Edition Schmitz 2014, p. 22

© Quint Buchholz