The planner of an exhibit honouring Alex Colville says the Amherst area greatly influenced the iconic Canadian artist.
TORONTO – Amherst and the neighbouring marshes had a long-lasting impact on Alex Colville during his formative years, says the planner of an exhibit of his work launching in late August at the Art Gallery of Ontario.
Shiralee Hudson-Hill, who is planning the exhibition that runs from Aug. 23 to January 2015, said Colville, who died last year, looked back fondly at his formative years in Amherst and the town and the surrounding Tantramar Marsh influenced his work a great deal.
“A deep sense of place was critical to the way he approached his work and many of his most recognizable paintings were inspired by his surroundings,” Hudson-Hill said. “He talked a lot about his years in Amherst. It was very formative.”
Born in Toronto, Colville moved to Amherst at age nine and lived in the Bent Cottage on East Victoria Street.
“When he arrived in Amherst he said it was like a whole new world. His father worked for Robb Engineering, which was owned by Dominion Bridge. He spent a lot of time going there after school,” said Hudson-Hill, who studied at Mount Allison University. “The landscape around Amherst and on the marsh between Amherst and Sackville really influenced him.”
Some of Colville’s most recognized works including Horse and Train and Horse and Church were local scenes. There were also iconic paintings of Sackville.
“These are iconic scenes of Canadiana,” she said. “Many Canadians grew up in an urban setting, but many also grew up in rural communities like Amherst and Sackville.”
Hudson-Hill said Colville contracted pneumonia as a child in Amherst and almost died. During his recovery he started drawing and in 1934 attended his first art class in Amherst, taught by Sarah Hart – a member of the fine arts faculty at Mount Allison.
She said Stanley Royal from Mount Allison steered Colville toward studying fine arts at Mount Allison when he was considering going to Dalhousie to study toward a law degree at the time.
“This was a wacky idea at the time to study art. At the time, he was one of two or three men in his class,” she said. “Alex was very practical. He asked if he’d be poor and unhappy and Royal said he didn’t think so.”
The exhibit will feature more than 100 works from private and public collections across the country. She said there will be a lot of Colville’s work that people don’t get to see very often.
Colville was 92 when he died last July in Wolfville from a heart condition.
“His work resonated deeply with Nova Scotians, Canadians and also internationally,” she said. “It’s hard sometimes in a very Canadian way to toot our own home. Here is one of our own, one of the greatest painters of the 20th century and it’s time for a big retrospective. The last one was 13 years ago.”
Hudson-Hill said the exhibit will not only celebrate Colville’s birthday of Aug. 24, but also the first anniversary of his passing last July. She said his death was a huge loss to the artistic community. The art gallery had been thinking of doing a Colville show for quite some time and the museum’s new Canadian art curator, Andrew Hunter, suggested pulling the exhibit together.
But instead of taking three to five years to plan and put an exhibit in place, the gallery took just one year to acquire the pieces for the exhibit.
People will be able to see the virtual exhibit beginning Aug. 23 at www.welcometocolville.ca .