Sense of Menace Pervades Alex Colville’s Art for a Reason

A comprehensive exhibit of premiere east coast painter Alex Colville is on at the  Art Gallery of Ontario until January. His images influenced the Coen brothers, among others. A good painting gets me into creative mode and helps me start a new story or gives me the impetus to get back to the fine edit of one that is almost done. We have just launched The Whole She-Bang 2 which has a story of mine “Special Delivery” in it and I was thinking about what draws mystery writers to their sometimes very dark vision. (Mine is not so dark!) I went to the exhibit for a change of pace but discovered an even darker world in the tight control of the artist’s careful brush strokes.  I have always loved Colville’s famous Horse and Train picture. And the iconic girl with binoculars and man with pistol pictures.

But seeing the exhibit I knew for the first time where his anxiety and fear came from. Colville was a Canadian war artist and the pictures in this exhibit that highlight some of that, show how much else he must have been exposed to. He joined after graduating from university in 1942 and was made a war artist in May 1944. His unit relieved the 82nd Airborne Division at Nijmegen, Netherlands in mid-September 1944 during Operation Market Garden and remained there until the following February 1945. He continued on to tours in the Netherlands and Germany, where he was also tasked with depicting the horrors of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. He felt life was dangerous because he had seen the worst.

I feel way more understanding about Colville’s obsession with painting nudes of his wife now that I see how utterly controlling he felt he had to be in the middle of a mad universe. To see the pictures I mentioned and the war paintings check out the exhibit at

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s