Ocean Limited by Alex Colville

Ocean Limited, 1962. Oil and synthetic resin on hardboard, 68.5x119.3cm. Collection of the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. Purchased with funds provided by Christopher Ondaatje, Toronto; the Art Sales and Rental Society, Halifax; and a private donor.

Alex Colville
Art Gallery of Nova Scotia
c. 1962
CANADA
1994.18
© 2006, Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. All Rights Reserved.


One of Canada’s most respected and influential artists, Alex Colville was born in Toronto and grew up in Amherst, Nova Scotia. A bout of pneumonia and the lengthy convalescence that followed had a profound effect on Colville. It is during this time of solitude that he turned to drawing. He studied art at Mount Allison University and in 1942 joined the Canadian army where he served in Europe as a war artist. When the war ended he was one of three artists sent to observe and record Bergen Belsen concentration camp, an event that had a profound influence on him. After the war he taught art and art history at Mount Allison University before devoting himself full time to his painting and printmaking.

Colville’s work has been exhibited all over the world; in North America, Europe and the Far East. He has received many honours. He was chosen to design a set of coins for Canada’s Centennial in 1967, the same year he was named to the Order of Canada.

Colville has been awarded eight honourary degrees and for 10 years served as the Chancellor of Acadia University in Nova Scotia.
One of Canada’s most respected and influential artists, Alex Colville was born in Toronto and grew up in Amherst, Nova Scotia. A bout of pneumonia and the lengthy convalescence that followed had a profound effect on Colville. It is during this time of solitude that he turned to drawing. He studied art at Mount Allison University and in 1942 joined the Canadian army where he served in Europe as a war artist. When the war ended he was one of three artists sent to observe and record Bergen Belsen concentration camp, an event that had a profound influence on him. After the war he taught art and art history at Mount Allison University before devoting himself full time to his painting and printmaking.

Colville’s work has been exhibited all over the world; in North America, Europe and the Far East. He has received many honours. He was chosen to design a set of coins for Canada’s Centennial in 1967, the same year he was named to the Order of Canada.

Colville has been awarded eight honourary degrees and for 10 years served as the Chancellor of Acadia University in Nova Scotia.

© 2006, Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. All Rights Reserved.

Geometry is at the heart of Alex Colville’s art. Composition, which is the term for how a painter puts an art work together, can be determined by several factors. Some painters compose by instinct, arranging things because that is what they feel is right. Others rely on what their eye tells them. They compose by repeating what they see around them. Still others compose by a reliance on geometric relationships, on proportions and strict mathematics. This is partly Colville’s strategy.

Colville is heavily influenced by Renaissance painters, and uses techniques from their theories of geometric composition. In Colville’s paintings, outlines, contour, proportion and geometry all reinforce the impression of precision. He changes the proportions and the relative scale between objects in order to heighten or otherwise have an impact on the emotional charge of the painting. In the study drawings for his paintings, one can see his careful plotting of the placement of his figures, both in relationship to other figures, and in the landscape. There are no accidents in an Alex Colville painting, everything is precise, ordered, determined.

The last word Read More
Geometry is at the heart of Alex Colville’s art. Composition, which is the term for how a painter puts an art work together, can be determined by several factors. Some painters compose by instinct, arranging things because that is what they feel is right. Others rely on what their eye tells them. They compose by repeating what they see around them. Still others compose by a reliance on geometric relationships, on proportions and strict mathematics. This is partly Colville’s strategy.

Colville is heavily influenced by Renaissance painters, and uses techniques from their theories of geometric composition. In Colville’s paintings, outlines, contour, proportion and geometry all reinforce the impression of precision. He changes the proportions and the relative scale between objects in order to heighten or otherwise have an impact on the emotional charge of the painting. In the study drawings for his paintings, one can see his careful plotting of the placement of his figures, both in relationship to other figures, and in the landscape. There are no accidents in an Alex Colville painting, everything is precise, ordered, determined.

The last word can go to the artist. Colville said in 1979, “In a certain sense, experience itself is chaos and it is my job as an artist to make order out of chaos, so that things that don’t make sense, make sense.”

© 2006, Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. All Rights Reserved.

A look at perspective in Alex Colville's work

Art Gallery of Nova Scotia
Art Gallery of Nova Scotia
20th Century
© 2006, Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. All Rights Reserved.


See how sketches help Colville prepare for his painting.

Art Gallery of Nova Scotia
Art Gallery of Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia, CANADA
© 2006, Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. All Rights Reserved.


Multiple Choice: Select one answer from the given list.

Art Gallery of Nova Scotia
Art Gallery of Nova Scotia
20th Century
© 2006, Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. All Rights Reserved.


Other works by Colville

Art Gallery of Nova Scotia
Art Gallery of Nova Scotia
20th Century
© 2006, Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. All Rights Reserved.


Discussion of Alex Colville's art work

If you were to tell the story of this painting, what would it be?

Alex Colville, Ocean Limited
Art Gallery of Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia, CANADA
© 2006, Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. All Rights Reserved.


Learning Objectives

  • Demonstrate an understanding of the lives of artists within cultural/ historical/ social contexts.
  • Explore the sources artists use in order to inform, define, and cause us to question and reflect.
  • Demonstrate an understanding of how artists' experiences are reflected in their work of art.

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