Views from the Gallery

Last Friday I made my way to Toronto. A handful of times a year I venture in to see what is on at the Art Gallery of Ontario. I was especially looking forward to its current exhibit on Alex Colville. For those unfamiliar with Canadian artists, Colville has been called one of our most influential. It isn’t easy to describe his art. His is a style that might be called realistic; some call it hyperreal, but that doesn’t quite catch it. You often hear the words “eerie” or “menacing” attached to his art. His style is dramatic, exploring the everyday in an uncanny way. He regularly introduces some unresolved narrative twist in an image, as if we are given a frame from a film spool – isolated and so bearing the burden of telling the whole story all on its own. The viewer is left wondering what the next frame will be. Colville’s art invite us to reflect on the phenomenon of searching for the stories needed to make sense of our experiences. Humans, it seems, are people attuned to stories, and are often on the lookout for occasions to unleash the imagination. But back to the story at hand!

I generally take the train for these trips, and so immediately enter a different world. I am neither in control nor accessible and so find the journey from home to the big city and back to be a kind of voyage deeper into the self. By the time I am at the gallery, I am in a different space and open to what might otherwise escape me.

I did not know that Colville, for instance, was a rabid fan of animals. I recall that animals often fit into his work, but I was not aware of his thought behind the images that I knew so well. At the gallery there were some interesting clips from a National Film Board interview of him some years ago, in which he spoke of animals as those not tainted by the many vices that mark being human. Their appearance in his paintings, then, strikes me as an especially interesting comment on our responsibility to attend to innocence. His work draws out the way in which animals invite us to see the world differently, and so draws us deeper into those residual moments of openness to the earth that paradoxically result in both joy and sorrow.

Colville points us to both our interest in the storied character of our existence as well as our sometimes muted yet never obliterated fascination with a more instinctive path of life. In the end, he invites us into a different world; a world where intuition matters as much as measurement, and passion as much as plans. Colville certainly cracks open a vantage point from which to witness a different way of being in the world – for those with eyes to see. May his tribe increase.

14 thoughts on “Views from the Gallery

  1. dianerivers says:

    And just like that, I am now acquainted with Alex Colville. Thank you! I clicked on the link you included and was instantly transfixed by the horse and train painting. I wonder – had you seen that particular painting before choosing to take the train into Ontario to view the exhibit ? If so, were you on the lookout for a horse on the tracks? Such layered work presenting (at least initially) as so simple and straightforward! I also liked the painting of the birds floating across the landscape. Glad you wrote about your experience and thus shared Colville’s work with the rest of us!

    • agjorgenson says:

      That is one of Colville’s more famous paintings, so I knew it before the trip to the AGO. But I wrote the piece before I found the link, so I did not know that this would be the image on the link. I’m glad this gave you opportunity to meet Colville!

  2. Marie Taylor says:

    Excellent! What a good overview of an the artist and his art. I am going to google him and become acquainted. Thanks for the introduction.

  3. shoreacres says:

    Interestingly, I was aware of Colville, but only because another blogging friend from Calgary had attended the exhibit while in Toronto for the TIFF. You can see her review, and her interesting reflections, here. She comes at the exhibit just slightly differently, and your posts complement one another because of it.

    Hyperrealism is a good word for his work, I think. The comparison to a movie still is even better, and makes me think that he paintings aren’t so much “still lifes” as “stilled life.” One thing is for sure — those moments that are captured give us a chance to walk into his paintings and examine the lives they portray in a way even photographs don’t always allow.

    • agjorgenson says:

      Thanks for the link. I look forward to reading more of Arti’s work! Yes, I think the word “stilled life” works very well. I’ve been thinking more about the film analogy and think it works rather well. I might do more with it at some point. Thanks for the encouragement!

  4. nicolaramsey says:

    Thanks for this Allen. Art should make us think.

  5. Arti says:

    Shoreacres had left a link for me to your blog. I’ve enjoyed your insightful view on the Alex Colville exhibit. I visited the AGO on Sept. 11 this year, while in TO for TIFF. I’d appreciated his ‘menacing take’ on life as seen in his works, and agreed with his thought that “Anxiety is the normality of our age.”

  6. diannegray says:

    What a beautiful post, Allen. Now I’m a fan of Colville as well. I absolutely love his take on animals and you relayed that so beautifully. Thank you.

  7. jannatwrites says:

    I like how you describe the train as a journey to a new place where you might be open to things you hadn’t been open to before. Our state of mind has so much to do with how we see the world. I’m glad you were able to experience this artist in new ways. I clicked the link and was intrigued by the horse and the train.

    • agjorgenson says:

      Hi Janna, thanks for this. I have to say that I find something nearly mystical in the train. I drive more often than I train to Toronto, but when I get there by train I am in altogether different space… in more ways than one!

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