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Arts Atlantic; Summer 2003 No. 75 Review

Galerie d’Aviqnon
March 19 to April 5, 2003

Philip Iverson

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 era.

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



copyright 2005, Philip Iverson Studios. All rights reserved.


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