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