Magazine; volume 1, number 1, Aug 2003
You Know What They Say About
PHILIP IVERSON’S DEVELOPED SOMETHING
of a following over the course of the past few years. It’s not a
big one, not obsessive enough to be called a "cult", but there
are increasing numbers of people drawn to exhibitions and studios by his
name. Lucky, then, for the Galerie d’Avignon, which has managed
to hook a permanent exhibition of Iverson’s work up in Montreal’s
The show itself is a departure not so much from Iverson’s style
as from his traditional subject matter - he’s better known for landscapes.
Indeed, portraiture isn’t the standard fare of many major Canadian
artists working today and Iverson’s take on it - heavily expressionistic
as is all his work - is striking.
The pieces’ impact is due to a handful of techniques that Iverson
skillfully employs to move his audience. The most obvious of these, to
anyone wandering in off the street, is the sheer size of the portraits:
many of the show’s pieces are as physically intimidating as they
are captivating. The portrait of Alex Katz is five by four foot.
But size along can’t speak to the whole effect of the show. Other
pieces - as striking as the portraits of Katz or Clemente - are no larger
than would be expected, but seem to almost climb off the plywood towards
you. This effect is the result of Iverson’s skillful rendering of
the eyes: they’re larger than they appear in the photographs on
which the paintings are based and, as such, give exactly the same effect
as the subject in person. They leer, smile, question and stare, but they
cannot be ignored.
Another interesting departure from Iverson’s earlier work is also
evident: the restrained, conservative colours. The pieces are mostly black
and white - some yellow, and a green or bluish undercoat for the larger
ones, but a very limited palette and quite unlike Iverson’s more
overtly expressionist landscapes. Most of the subjects themselves are
wearing black suits and ties, or else black turtlenecks and t-shirts.
Yet despite this restrained colour-scheme the effect is not the least
bit dull or gloomy.
One last note: these are paintings of painters - Roy Lichtenstein, George
Seagal, Andy Warhol and others - but these are clearly not the artists
Iverson takes after. It’s hard to imagine a show that could look
less like a Lichtenstein or Warhol exhibition than this. What it is: a
homage, on Iverson’s own terms, to artists he admires and respects
as the shapers of today’s art culture, as he takes another step
toward joining their ranks.