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Dances With Paint

When Philip Iverson starts to paint, his toes start tapping and moving all about; it's part of his energetic creative process, one in which he brings out whatever is deep in his gut.

AS TOLD TO Noel Chenier [by] Philip Iverson, artist/teacher, Fredericton

PAINTING makes me feel good. It's a cleansing whenever I come into the studio. It's sort of going down deep inside of myself and finding those things in my guts that are a bit of a weight, those negative emotions that may be bothering me. I find it's great for my self-esteem. I feel I have to paint or do artwork. If I don't do artwork for three or four days, I start to slide down into a slump. Going back to the studio, it just makes me feel better. I realize who I am, where I am, why I'm here.

It's also the journey. I might do one type of painting, and then try to do that type of painting again. It felt great the first time, but if I try to do the same thing, I don't get much out of it. I realize that I'm just trying to go on the same journey that I've already been on. Each time I try to take it from a slightly different perspective or vantage point.

I try not to think too much when I paint. I try not to concentrate logically. I find when I do that, I get stuck. I don't have to understand why I'm doing all this. I try to listen very carefully to what my subconscious is saying; the first thought that comes to our heads.

But often with that first thought we start to ask questions right away. The colour blue might flash through my head, but then I might start to ask, "What about the blue? Would the blue work or will it not work?" When I start to ask those questions, that's when I'm going off track. So I just try to not ask any of those questions and just listen to that subconscious message without questioning it. Just do it. And it seems to always work.

I went to Japan just last summer and when I was there, I all of a sudden started to do abstract work. I had tried to do it before, but I just couldn't seem to feel a connection with abstract work. But in Japan I suddenly did feel a connection. Now that I'm back in Fredericton, I'm still working with realistic imagery, but I'm integrating things in more of an abstract way. The things that I'm putting in my paintings are not necessarily all in the same environment. I'm throwing things together that don't make sense at first.

I used to label my style as expressionism. I suppose I could still call it that, but I think it's more gestural work. When I paint, I usually try to jump right into the painting with a lot of energy. In a way I can compare it perhaps to dancing &#dash; and almost a karate type of approach. When I am putting a brush stroke down it is very spontaneous, because I just have to subconsciously listen and react to what I hear. Bang, the brush stroke is down before I realize why. There's a lot of action and gesture.

I allow my body to move around. I can't paint with two feet on the floor. I find by letting my feet move around, like a tap dance, that keeps the energy flowing freely and makes it so much easier and more spontaneous putting the brush strokes down. When I put a brush stroke down I start to get a feeling back. I'll be giving a lot of vocal sounds. I do that because my body needs to, it has to. By using my voice at times, it'll free the tension.

When I started working more with my emotions &#dash; just putting my true gut emotions into my work &#dash; it was like opening up a water valve, letting all my frustrations and things that I had been suppressing for a long time come out. It was scary, but it was a great feeling. I try to stay in touch with how I'm feeling, even if the feelings are not so good. Not to treat them like they're an alien from outer space. My feelings are me. I can deny them and pretend they are not there, or I can say "Okay feelings, let's chat and see if we can work something out here." I take those negative feelings and turn them into positive energy.

In my work I like to always leave one part of it sort of unanswered. I look at it and I don't understand why. When we wake up in the morning there are always questions going through our heads, constantly bombarding us. I don't like a painting in which everything can be explained afterward. That's daily life, isn't it?

Most of the response that I have gotten I have been happy with. I'm not sure if everyone understands my work. In fact I don't think even I understand some of my work entirely. But people seem to like the energy that goes into the work.

The way that I work might appear to be harsh, vigorous and angry with many emotions. It's not like working this way makes me feel like I'm down in the dumps. It's completely the opposite. Working this way takes all these down-in-the-dumps feelings and lets them loose and puts them into the piece. After creating a good painting I truly feel 100 per cent on top of the world. Perhaps for three to five minutes, then it goes down to 98 per cent, then to 85 per cent, and a few days later down to 65 per cent.

At my upcoming show at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery in Fredericton, it's going to be three pieces. Primarily it's these large wooden paintings that I've been working on for two years now. It's 114 feet [34 meters] in length, nine feet [3 meters] in height. When I started it originally I was doing three paintings, and I decided to take them and merge them into one larger painting. It will take up three walls in the McCain Gallery. The opening is on the 30th of January and it runs until April.

My main goal is to get my work into larger cities, larger urban areas, and to get showings in some good art galleries I'm really striving towards my work being shown in the National Gallery of Canada. That's what I would like to happen. I'd like to be able to survive on my artwork. That's happening right now, but I still have to do tutorials and teaching on the side. I hope down the line to make enough to survive comfortably. I've sold a bit here in Fredericton, but I think my artwork is not quite what the general people like around here. I'm willing to accept that. That's why I'm trying to find other places than just here to show my work.

There are some artists who say they don't care if their work is shown. The way that I create my artwork is an expression of myself and I don't just want to express myself to a mirror. When I'm in the studio I want to be as honest as possible, to express what I see as the truth. Rut who am I expressing it to? Myself, partly, but at the same time I would like other people to look at it and take it in.

I started teaching when I was up in Montreal, a course in expressionism, the artwork that I was familiar with. When I got back to Fredericton, I was doing some tutorials and the College of Craft and Design came and asked me if I wanted to teach a day course there. That was a very nice offer, so I took it.

I enjoy teaching. Being able to put across my own view of art and to get the feedback from students. To see how they react to what I say and to what they create. At the end of the class we talk about the artwork they created and the really neat thing is the way they arc individually expressing themselves. That true inner self is what I like to see in artwork. I'm not much of a talker outside. I'm not a very social person. But when it's in the classroom I get a chance to talk about something that I know and enjoy. It's a nice interaction.

I have students who say, "I can't do art. I don't know how to paint." In the course I'm teaching, I'm trying to help students take down a lot of the stereotypes they've taken in about what art is. A lot of us think that art is knowing bow to mix colours knowing perspective and proportion. Those are helpful basic tools in art. Creativity is different. If you learn all those basic tools it doesn't mean you can create. Creativity is more about finding a truth that's in your life, or that's around you or inside you. I think for most of us the truth is hidden deep in our gut.

When people say they can't create, I don't believe them. If they can do something where they get some positive feeling back, even if they put a brush stroke down or two and they laugh at it. Isn't that good? They got something back. To me that's creating something.

Optimism. I used to not know what that word meant. To me, optimism is very important when it comes to creating. For many years I beard the word, but it wasn't until I was in Montreal that I realized what it meant. One day I was feeling down in the dumps. I felt like there were a lot of clouds over me. As I was going over to the laundromat, I looked down and saw this leaf on the ground. And ail of a sudden I got this feeling "Wow. Look at that! isn't it so nice!"

What I liked about the leaf was its colour. Then I started looking around for other colours. And suddenly I was feeling so much better, felt power coming into me again. I realized that optimism is not something that comes to you magically, it's something you have to look for. When it comes to creating art, I try to encourage people to look at their so-called mistakes from an optimistic point of view. You can either make a so-called mistake and start over again, or you can look at the mistake and then zoom in on it. This is a so-called mistake; however is there something that I like about it? That's where optimism comes in. Finding that positive element.

Some people see doing art as a way to find a style. People ask me if I've found my style yet, and my answer is no. I know when I'm going to find my style, and that's going to be in the last painting that I do before I die. I don't like to look at my own work as a style. Each piece has to be a different journey, going a bit farther. The rest of my life is going to be a journey, until finally, the last piece that I do before I die, people can look at that one and say "Ah, so this is where Philip has finally found himself."

Telegraph Journal,
January 16, 1999




copyright 2005, Philip Iverson Studios. All rights reserved.


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