Alex Colville’s prints unveiled at the Owens

University memorializes Canadian artist.

Mount Allison University is now the proud owner of thirty-five original prints by preeminent Canadian artist Alex Colville. The collection was donated in the spring of 2013, shortly before the artist’s death this July. The gift, arranged by Colville’s daughter and art dealer, Anne Kitz, was made in memory of his wife Rhoda (Wright) Colville, who passed away in December last year. The complete collection was unveiled at the Owens Art Gallery on Nov. 2, following a reception at Tweedie Hall that commemorated Colville’s artistic legacy.

Colville, now widely known as one of Canada’s foremost visual artists, began his career as a fine arts student at Mt. A. Four years after his graduation in 1942, Colville returned to the university as a professor, where he taught until 1963. Today, his connection with the university continues through the donation of his original prints.

The gift is a dream come true for a Canadian art gallery.  It features the artist’s entire personal collection of serigraph prints, completed throughout the duration of his career.  The earliest print, “After Swimming”, was completed in 1955, while the latest, “Willow,” is from 2002. The collection in its entirety serves as a retrospect of the artist’s influential career as a pioneering Canadian printmaker. The earliest prints show the hints of an artist in the process of mastering his medium: the lines are rougher, flatter planes dominate the design, and the figures are shadowy and gestural. As Colville’s career advances, his work becomes more precise and realistic. The later prints depict vivid scenes of daily interactions in a way that showcase Colville’s virtuosic grasp of lighting and texture.

Throughout Colville’s development as a printmaker, his subject matter and the overall atmosphere of his pieces remain remarkably consistent. His work reflects his interest in the quiet intimacy of human relationships, the inherent goodness of animals, and the grace of every day moments.

Colville’s wife, Rhoda, features prominently in much of his work. As Owens director Gemmy Kelly noted, Rhoda was not only his lifelong partner, but also his muse and his inspiration throughout the entirety of his career. It is fitting, therefore, that the collection of prints was donated in her memory. In a poetic, tender way, the couple’s relationship is documented through the series of prints, from their youth to their old age. Appropriately, the exhibition is chronologically bookended by two prints of the couple together.

The unveiling of Colville’s gift was as much a reunion of the artist’s friends and family as it was an exhibition of his work. Among the three hundred-odd people in attendance were Colville’s close friends and relatives, including his three children, classmates, and former students.

One guest in attendance was Colville’s former student and renowned Canadian painter, Christopher Pratt. Pratt, whose own work is strikingly reminiscent of Colville’s style, addressed the attendees of the event with fond and humorous recollections of his relationship with the artist.

“[Alex Colville] was much a mentor as a professor,” Pratt said. “I consider him to be the greatest Canadian artist, and, in fact, I believe him to be one of the greatest artists of the twentieth century, anywhere.”

Colville’s gift to the university is a significant contribution to the artistic community in Sackville. University president Robert Campbell said that the donation from Colville, a “true Allisonian […] will provide a particular resource to the fine arts students, and will afford tremendous access to our entire community to view Colville’s work, and of course it will make an ongoing contribution to our fine arts collection.”

The “Alex Colville Gift to Mount Allison University” exhibition is currently on display at the Owens. The gallery now houses Canada’s most complete collection of Colville’s work.

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