I think in a sense the things I show are moments in which everything seems perfect and something is revealed.
Alex Colville created images that are rooted in the details of time and place. He drew from the world around him, whether the rural landscape of Atlantic Canada, or scenes of California and Germany, where Colville spent extended stays.
Colville called Sackville, New Brunswick, home from the beginning of his studies as a Fine Arts student at Mount Allison University in 1938, until he moved to Wolfville, Nova Scotia, in 1973. Colville In Situ is a three-part series that pairs three works by the artist depicting recognizable Sackville locations with photographs of those same locations today. In seeing these works in situ, we can gain insight into Colville’s process of ordering reality and the ways that he constructed his compositions through observation and imagination. These moments invite us to look and look again as we consider Colville’s work in the here and now.
Untitled (Sketch for Sackville Train Station Mural), c. 1942
mixed media on paper
26 x 48.3 cm
Collection of the Owens Art Gallery, Mount Allison University
Gift of the Artist
© A.C. Fine Art Inc.
The scene is filled with bustling patrons of all ages, some departing, others returning. This sketch, which Alex Colville completed as a Fine Arts student at Mount Allison University, is all that remains of the mural he designed for the Sackville train station.
Created during the early years of the Second World War, the drawing features soldiers and loved ones preparing to say their goodbyes, with the train station itself seen in the background to the right, and the train obscured by a cloud of steam on the left. Once a hub of interaction and travel, the train station in Sackville now stands empty. Although trains still stop periodically, the building itself is no longer in use. Colville’s drawing transports us to another time, connecting us to the past, and reminding us of the spaces that we often take for granted, both in Sackville and on our journeys elsewhere.
Milk Truck, 1959
oil and synthetic resin on hardboard
65.4 x 65.4 cm
Gift of ICI Canada Inc.
McMichael Canadian Art Collection, 1995.19.12
© A.C. Fine Art Inc.
In the foreground of this painting, a milk truck wheels around a corner. It is early morning and the street is deserted. The driver can be seen through the rear window, and a young boy stands on the running board of the vehicle, balancing himself with one arm through the open passenger-side window, while holding a bottle of milk in his free hand, ready to jump off at any moment to deliver it. In the back of the truck, which is packed with crates of milk, sits a black dog that looks straight at us.
Colville once said that his paintings are “a sort of conglomeration of experience and observation.” In this work, the intersection of Bridge and Main Streets in Sackville is rendered with precision. While new businesses have taken the places of the old, some architectural details remain the same, such as the distinctive façade with its half-moon window. Further down the street, the post office now occupies the spot where three smaller buildings once were. Standing at this corner, waiting for the signal to cross, where does your attention turn?
Mr. Wood in April, 1960
oil and synthetic resin
60.9 x 91.4 cm
© A.C. Fine Art Inc.
An older man with grey hair and a loose-fitting grey suit walks on the sidewalk between the paved roadway and a decorative stone and wrought iron fence. Alongside him, the trees stand tall and bare, and the grass is still yellowed from the winter cold. This man is Mr. Wood, whose family home, Cranewood, stands just beyond the fence.
The photograph of this spot in 2022, with its trees in full leaf and spring rolling brightly over into summer, is a stark contrast to Colville’s painting. Yet the two images may remind us of the shared experience of walking this path and witnessing the turning of the seasons. By taking us to this spot, with the stately architecture of Cranewood just out of view, Mr. Wood in April offers us a quiet moment to reflect on the ways that we move through the world and observe the passage of time.
Colville in Situ was made possible thanks to the support of the Department of Canadian Heritage (Young Canada Works in Heritage Organizations) and Mount Allison University alumni Heather and Ian Bourne.