Alex Colville: Prints & Process
5th session

November 03 - November 26, 2022


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The bidding history list updated on: Monday, April 22, 2024 11:57:24

LOT 612

1920 - 2013

Study for Swimmer
mixed media on paper
signed and dated 4 Oct. 1993
2 x 6 in, 5.1 x 15.2 cm

Estimate: $10,000 - $15,000 CAD

Sold for: $9,735

Preview at:

Property of the Artist
Douglas Udell Gallery
Private Collection, Vancouver

Philip Fry, Alex Colville: Paintings, Prints and Processes, 1983 – 1994, 1994, pages 97 and 98

“A woman as a kind of submarine. I may owe a debt to the film ‘Das Boot.’ ”

- Alex Colville

Study for Swimmer is a late stage preparatory work for Alex Colville’s 1993 painting Swimmer and Sun. In Swimmer and Sun, the scene behind the woman is a softly clouded sky with the orb of a pale sun. In this version, Colville did not include the sun, but added a thin strip of land on the horizon, and divided the firmament diagonally between a bank of clouds and an open, delicately coloured dappled sky. In the final painting, the woman gazes directly at the viewer, whereas here, she is focussed beyond the viewer. By submerging her body and her face below the eyes in the water, Colville implies the unseen movement by the circle of ripples around her head. As is Colville’s practice with an exploratory study, the work includes sightlines and notes, revealing how carefully he considered each element of his image.

This swimmer is far from shore – or at least from the background land, and we feel a certain vulnerability about her suspension in the water. Colville’s reference to Das Boot is intriguing – the film concerns the German submarine U-96 in World War II. In the story, the submarine is attacking a British convoy, and sailors leap overboard from a ship and swim toward them. As they cannot accommodate prisoners, the captain orders the U-boat to leave. Possibly Colville had the shadow of this in his mind when he chose this subject, although the woman, her head like a periscope with its white bathing cap, is just going for an innocent swim on a peaceful day, most likely in Nova Scotia. These kind of shadows are often felt in Colville’s work, in which a certain unsettling atmosphere can be sensed that you cannot quite identify. For this reason, Study for Swimmer is a powerful image with multiple possible meanings. As Philip Fry wrote, “Gaze once again into the swimmer’s gaze. Here are the eyes of the sea, haunted with a sense of our fragile destiny.”

All prices are in Canadian Dollars

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