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A paint-wrangler's fearless smears


Painting, as we know, is always dying. Expressionist painting in particular, with its Dionysian surges and volleys of raw pigment lacerated onto the canvas, died a long time ago -- about 1960, I'd say. But then there's always another painter coming along who either hasn't heard the news or chooses to disregard it. And then, under his or her hands, hot, roiling, unfashionable, expressionist painting is reborn -- momentarily at least.

Montreal painter Philip Iverson is one of those artists who has refused to listen to the rumours of the death of painterly painting. And I, for one, am glad of it. Yes, part of my enjoyment -- which has been huge -- of Iverson's work, over the years, is traceable to my having come of age, sensuously speaking, enraptured by the kind of hot-licks painting generated by Willem De Kooning, Jackson Pollock and the boys of New York Action Painting. But there's a lot more to it than just nostalgia.

Painting like Iverson's -- now at Toronto's Lonsdale Gallery -- takes you right to the heart of the creative moment. You can see, in his lashings of thick pure colour, his flung ropes of heavy oil paint jettisoned straight from the tube, his fearless smears and gobbings of the stuff, a mind intoxicated by the immediacy of a thousand decisions. Quick, quick, where to spread the yellow? Where to dance the orange? Should that drip of maroon be staunched, or allowed to meander right on down to the bottom of the picture? Suppose I dammed it up with about a kilo of this midnight blue I just mixed up? Each painting is a paroxysm of the artist's engagement with his own vitality.

I've watched Iverson paint. He dances around like a madman before the canvas, poking at it with paint-daubed sticks, taunting it, slapping it and threatening it with mewling, Bruce-Lee-like noises unfurling from his throat. It's wild and funny and frightening. But the thing is, it's bodily -- a dance of the dervish self, screaming its way into pure colour, meaningful shape and, in the end, visionary gleam.

And you know what I like best about these paintings? They're blissfully free of irony. What you see is what there is. This is open, public painting. There's no room here for any wearying, winking, nudging, smarmy, private knowingness.

These newest Iversons are essentially all landscapes. No, you can't see the cow in the meadow. But you can find yourself caught up in rocks and tills (By the Brook), deep still pools (Posts, Shore Plants), scudding clouds (Haru, Spring), writhing hills (Close and Far).

Iverson's expressionist paint-wrangling is, of course, perfect for landscape painting -- and these new paintings sometimes look like deranged and accelerated versions of Arthur Lismer's tossed views of Georgian Bay, or J.E.H. Macdonald's The Tangled Garden gone apocalyptic. In the end, it's all pretty heady stuff -- if "old-fashioned."

We live in a pluralistic age and an eternal present. For me, Iverson's bardic derangement is the very embodiment of the act of art. Iverson's art is not, like much of today's art, mere sociology. Here, rather, is convulsive, untrammelled beauty - a brave declaration of hopeless individuality in an increasingly incorporated society.

-- $1,800-$4,800. Until July 7, 4l0 Spadina Rd., Toronto; 416-487-8733.

The Globe And Mail [Review], Saturday, June 22, 2002



copyright 2005, Philip Iverson Studios. All rights reserved.


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