Arts Atlantic; Summer
2003 No. 75 Review
March 19 to April 5, 2003
Over the centuries, artists have used
works by other artists as sources of inspiration and subjects to be integrated
into their own creations. Van Gogh looked to Japanese painting and to
the paintings of Delacroix and Millet, integrating elements of their art
into his own paintings. One artist’s creation thus becomes part
of someone else’s art. For his latest show at Galerie d’Avignon,
Philip Iverson has literally drawn from a series of photo portraits of
famous contem porary artists to create arresting, mostly black-and-white
portraits. They have a textural and graphic sense, although some of Iverson’s
interpretations come off better than others. He approaches them from a
great distance, not knowing these people. His subjects are merely a jumping-off
point and don’t inform the treatment of the image. Seeing all of
these works together is like witnessing a eulogy to the 1980s art-star
system in a less certain, more brooding, post-boom and new millennial
I’ve seen Iverson at work in his Montreal studio. First, he put
some red paint spots in the upper left-hand corner of a portrait on canvas.
Next he followed with a rapid brush movement that was fast, furious and
unpredictable. It was an inside-out process, where inner energies were
projected outward and put onto the exterior skin of a canvas. I witnessed
the art’s gradual unfolding onto canvas, which reflected a process
where the unconscious is manifested in a landscape of the mind or a visual
narration that, like the
spoken word, exists in its own unique context of the moment. Iverson’s
method captures something very personal and renders it public in the form
of a portrait.
Iverson may be better known on the East Coast for his 32.75 mx 2.73 m
mural titled Yellow Boat, which was exhibited at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery
several years ago. The mural had textural and multisurfaced layers made
of various woods collaged together and painted in places. It was more
direct and expressionistic than Iverson’s recent work; it even included
illustrative social and urban-landscape elements.
Now a Montreal resident, Iverson continues to be influenced by Pop Art
and gestural figuration, but a recent trip to Japan with its gentler,
imaginary landscape painting and scroll traditions had an effect on him.
He now uses thick brushwork and earthy colours and has returned to portrait
and landscape painting. There is still an active textured immediacy to
Iverson’s painterly style, but it is less aggressive than it was,
for example, in the portraits that were exhibited at Galerie Dresdnere
in Toronto and Gallery 78 in Fredericton in the early l990s. The new portraits
are limited in colour and emphasize line and texture, so much so that
their presentation seems more important than whom they represent. They
become icons for identity in an age where individual identity is threatened
by image overload.
Among the portraits at the Avignon show are 10 large oil-on-wood panels
that include painterly headshots of Sandro Chia, Alex Katz, Roy Lichtenstein,
Janet Fish, Jennifer Bartlett and Francesco Clemente. The smaller, more
intimately scaled ink-on-wood panels, which have acrylic borders, create
a photographic distancing effect almost like a memory. They are reminiscent
of the painter David Salle, who is among the portrait subjects. The dark,
contrasting, ink-and-brush- caricature feel of Iverson’s paintings
brings to mind the German 1930s painters George Grosz and Max Beckman.
Sometimes these paintings are almost too painted. For Iverson, working
in black and white is a way to avoid distortion. “Colours distort
what you have to say,” he insists, which is an amazing comment since
so many of his 1990s portrait works used vivid colours.
Portraits of Julian Schnabel and Chuck Close, which is one of the most
successful, become a vehicle for exploring process. Iverson even goes
through a performance- like dance complete with strange clicking and cluckingsounds,
random clapping of hands and shaking of the body to loosen it up until
he intuitively feels it’s the exact right moment to put brush to
canvas. For Iverson, paintingis like a performance or acting, a vehicle
that affirms our place in the present.
John K. Grande