This raises the subject of angst in Colville’s paintings, and in particular the critic Mario Tuzi’s charge that Colville’s work presents “a mechanical geometry of angst”. Consider Pacific, for example: a man, shirtless, with his back turned to the spectator, leans against the doorframe of a house overlooking the sea; in the foreground a pistol lies on a table that is also incised with a yardstick or ruler of the kind used for measuring cloth. According to Tuzi (1988: 8): “It is the gun and virility, implied menace and violence, couched in a flawless aesthetic order that rule the painting.”
Tuzi’s reading is mistaken to the extent it focusses on the gun in isolation, rather than in relation to other details of the painting, most notably the ruler. The ruler stands for measurement and balances the gun. Similarly, the infinity of the ocean balances the virility or latent aggressivity of the man. The title of the painting, “Pacific,” further implies that the image is after all one of peacefulness – albeit a controled peacefulness. Together, all the elements suggest an image of society in which the threat of violence is controlled by the imposition of a “peaceful” order. Were Tuzi to reflect upon the relationships between the objects in Pacific, instead of focussing on the objects themselves, he might have grasped the painting’s underlying meaning. The meaning of a Colville painting is always in the balance. Tuzi (1988: 10) unwittingly recognized this when he wrote: “The idea that Canada is a fragmented, regionalized country, holding itself precariously together on the edge of existential negation, achieves complete legitimation in Colville’s work”.