Alex Colville and the Movies

“It’s the ordinary things that seem important to me.” — Alex Colville Whenever I go to Toronto, The Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) is always a must. As if to correspond with The Toronto International Film Festival, the current exhibition of more than 100 pieces of works by Canadian artist Alex Colville is a timely offering. Before my visit to AGO I’d looked up some info on Toronto born Alex Colville (1920-2013) who later moved to Nova Scotia and became an icon of Canadian art. His “Man on Verandah” (1953) set the record as the highest auctioned price recorded for a living Canadian artist in 2010. He was then 90 years old. The realism of Colville’s paintings at first reminded me of the American painter Edward Hopper. But a closer look at his meticulous renderings and precise details, I had the feeling that I was looking at a photograph, but the dramatic depictions made them look more like movie stills. As I walked through the exhibits, my inkling was confirmed. The quote on this banner may well set the tone as one enters the exhibition hall: EnteringAs soon as I stepped into the gallery, I saw this familiar work but only then did I find out its title: “To Prince Edward Island” (1965):

Alex Colville

Adjacent to the painting is a movie clip projected on the wall, showing Colville’s influence on the director Wes Anderson. Of course, that’s Suzy from Moonrise Kingdom (2012). The ever watchful female gaze through the binoculars. Both works exude mystery and nostalgia:

Moonrise KingdomApparently Colville’s influence can be found in several other filmmakers. In the exhibitions I was led to view samples of some close associations.

Artists influence each other. Colville’s “Target Pistol and Man” (1980) could be the inspiration for the Coen brother’s imagery of the psychotic and sinister character Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men (2007). But of course, one could argue that the movie was based on Cormac McCarthy’s book (2005). So it could be McCarthy being first spooked by Colville’s depiction of this cold, hard, and unpredictable character in the painting:

Pistol and Man

Further down the exhibits, I was confronted with a set of four Colville paintings in the scenes of Stanley Kubrick’s famous horror film The Shining (1980), adaptation of Stephen King’s novel. Too ‘in-your-face’? Some critics think so. No matter, I’m not posting them here to avoid sensationalism.

However, as I walked through the exhibits without any explicit prompting, I could indeed draw connections between some of them and the movies I’ve seen. Here are a few more examples:

Just when you think you’re going to have a good time taking the children on an outing, maybe a swim or a picnic, and then you see the rainstorm approaching.

Family and Rainstorm (1955):

Family & RainstormJust like the ending scene of A Serious Man (2009) by the Coen brothers, impending storm in the school yard. The unpredictable and precariousness in everyday life.

Or, how about this, which movie does this painting “Seven Crows” (1980) lead you to think of:

Seven CrowsOr this one, “Soldier and Girl at Station” (1953):

Soldier and Girl at Station“Anxiety is the normality of our age,” Colville had said. I could totally feel it while looking at his works.


To correspond with my weekly photo meme, I’m linking this post to Saturday Snapshot Sept. 27 hosted by West Metro Mommy Reads. CLICK HERE to see what others have posted.


Some related post on Ripple Effects:

Art Gallery of Ontario

AGO Exhibition: Terror and Beauty

Bernini’s Corpus and Mordern Movies

Edward Hopper, William Safire: The Visual and the Word


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If she’s not birding by the Pond, Arti’s likely watching a movie, reading, or writing a review. Creator of Ripple Effects, bylines in Asian American Press, Vague Visages, Curator Magazine.

33 thoughts on “Alex Colville and the Movies”

  1. Great summary and obviously you spent time researching this carefully. Now I truly wonder if you and I attended the gallery around the same time. I saw the Colville exhibit in early Sept. also and enjoyed it immensely.

    Then I had to run over the gallery’s regular rm.’s to get my Group of 7 fix. It’s been awhile I’ve gone to Kleinberg where there are more works at the McMichael Collection.


    1. Jean,

      I was in Toronto during TIFF, and visited the AGO on Sept. 11. The chances of our being in the same place at the same time is slim, however, I don’t deny there could be cases of déjà vu’s. This time I just focused on the Colville exhibit, since time was short so I didn’t revisit the Group of Seven.


  2. An interesting exhibit Arti, thanks for taking us along. I’ve not heard of Alex Colville before. I thought of Edward Hopper too, and also our Australian Jeffrey Smart. I can only see five crows in the painting, is it meant to be obscure?


  3. I was inspired to visit AGO after reading The Forest Lover, a novel about Emily Carr. I spent a while morning looking at her work and also the group of painters with whom she became associated. It’s a great museum!


    1. Susan,

      Yes it is. And I love their permanent collection of the Group of Seven and the Thompson collection. But note this, Michelangelo: Quest for Genius is coming Oct. – Jan. 😉


  4. This looks like a wonderful exhibit. I wasn’t at all familiar with Alex Colville, so thanks for the introduction. Boy, I love how you think and how you see the film in the painting. When I saw those last two you mentioned I thought “The Birds” (pretty obvious — is there something more obscure. And, “Downton Abbey” — Mary and Matthew bidding farewell at the station. The period wasn’t the same, but the feeling and atmosphere was. Were those what you had in mind?

    Truly an exhibit I’d like to see.


    1. Jeanie,

      You know, this is my intro. to Alex Colville too. Glad I discovered this marvellous artist at the AGO. That’s a must-see if you ever go to Toronto. And note this, Michelangelo: Quest for Genius is coming Oct. – Jan. Just too bad I can’t go back there any time soon.

      And yes, those were the exact two associations I made when looking at “Seven Crows” and “Soldier and Girl at Station”. How interesting our minds work. 😉


  5. I have to admit to not knowing or being aware of Alex Colville and I have to say that I really like his work. I don’t know if you will agree with me but Colville’s work has the look of David Hockney.


    1. Chris,

      Alex Colville is a relatively new find for me too, I’m afraid I’ve to admit, albeit I’ve seen his paintings before here and there but had no idea who painted them. And thanks for intro. me to David Hockney.


  6. i’ve never heard of Alex Colville, but I must say I would have thought of Edward Hopper, too if I bumped into his work in a museum, with no context. Even now, I think of Hopper. Another painter who comes to mind is Thomas Hart Benton. At first glance, they don’t seem similar at all, but both have the ability to distill reality in such a way that it confronts us, rather than simply “being there.”

    This was such an interesting review. I must say, I find some of his paintings more than a little spooky. He certainly does a good job of conveying his conviction that life, essentially, is dangerous.


    1. Linda,

      I’ve seen some of his works prior to visiting this exhibition, but had no idea who the painter was or knew anything about Alex Colville. And I live even closer than you.You see, this is another thing about us Canadians… don’t try to generalize, but we are so modest that our left hand doesn’t know the accolades our right hand is gathering. :)))


  7. I wasn’t pinpoint the feelings these photos evoked, but once you (and Linda) mentioned it, I realized you’d nailed it for me — the sense of anxiety or spookiness or just something off-balanced.


    1. Thanks Linda for the link. I’ve gone there and found his blog quiet and insightful… just my cup of tea. And I’m sure you’d known I would like it. So, thanks! 😉


  8. HI there, thanks for this review, and the visit to my blog too! It was so very interesting to revisit again the show with you. I paid less attention to the movie connections, but now think I want to explore this a bit more. The curator did a great job of making this connection. Seeing this alongside of TIFF must have been invigorating! Allen


    1. Allen,

      Welcome to the pond, where visitors throw in their two pebbles (instead of 2 cents) and leave some ripples. I’ve enjoyed reading your blog Stillvoicing, and much appreciated the title. (years back I was involved in editing a church magazine, its title: Still Voice 😉 )

      I could see Alex Colville was inspiration to several filmmakers, as the exhibit so explicitly pointed out, which was frowned upon by some critics as being too ‘leading’ and ‘in-your-face’.

      To some more subtle connections… on a previous visit to AGO, I came across the sculpture, Bernini’s Corpus, and had shared some of my thoughts (not from AGO) which maybe you’d be interested. I’ve linked it at the end of this post, but here it is: Bernini’s Corpus and Modern Movies.

      Again, thanks for throwing in your two pebbles and following.


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