|Alex Colville, Couple on Beach, 1957. |
Casein tempera on Masonite, 73.4 x 96.4 cm.
Purchased 1959 National Gallery of Canada
Alex Colville: Love in a Cold Climate
September 4, 2014
The last paintings of Rhoda, whose death, by many accounts, left Alex mortally bereft, brought tears to my eyes. Hunter’s insertion at this point of footage from Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell seemed, to me, deeply off. The film is a game, a postmodern inquiry into the authenticity of memory; Colville’s paintings are more sincere. Contemporary culture now endorses successive separating and recoupling, which can be psychologically punishing. We denigrate the viability of long-term dyadic relationships: their apparent staleness, confinement, and evolutionary-biological unnaturalness. Colville shows us the opposite. His couple ages together like a pair of fused mushrooms. Their increasingly shameless display of private nakedness is a freedom rather than a neutering. The man uses the presence of the woman as a primitive shelter, her ease with existence contrasting with his unease. It adds up to nothing less: Rhoda and Alex are one of the great love stories this country’s art has told. And, like our landscapes, it is a rather rational motif—love by decision, love by design.