Earthly Weathers/Heavenly Skies
17 January – 15 March 15 1998
at Centennial Square
Curated by Matthew Teitelbaum
Organized and circulated by the Art Gallery of Ontario
For six decades, Paterson Ewen has attacked surfaces with paint and tools to convey the force of the natural world around him. Bringing together a selection of work from his long career, the exhibition Earthly Weathers/Heavenly Skies at Oakville Galleries presents an artistic vision of versatility and powerful expression.
His early painting is characterised by restlessness and a willingness to try new approaches. Based in Montreal until 1968, Ewen concentrated on formal means through a study of form and gesture, gradually exploring the vocabulary of early modern painting. His landscapes, interiors and figure studies reveal an appreciation for the achievements of the French Post-Impressionists, who constructed their paintings from an awareness of the retinal processing of visual stimulus, to create a richly suggestive rather than transcriptive painting surface.
The bulk of the work on exhibit was completed in the 1970s, after he moved to London, Ontario. Using sign systems and short-forms as an overt system of image-making very different from his earlier painting, Ewen embraced new subject matter: the landscape, its weather conditions and the skies that produce them. The Rain series (1971), including the drawing now in Oakville Galleries’ Permanent Collection, shows his interest in symbols and diagrams. Seeking to represent natural phenomena through schema rather than pictorial means, Ewen indicated rain by using a series of dots. In Thunder Cloud as Generator #2 (1971, AGO), like cartographers and meteorologists, Ewen translated weather information into a graphic system of representation, making the energy-producing elements in the clouds literal as positive and negative fields.
The large-scale gouged plywood works from the late 1970s and early 1980s take his depiction of landscape and phenomena to a new level of epic materiality. This work is well-known, resulting from Ewen’s rejection of canvas and brush in favour of plywood and power tools, after obsessively working and inking a wooden surface to make a woodcut print until he realized that the wooden surface itself was his work of art.
The most recent pieces in the exhibition are six small but powerful watercolours depicting landscapes and violent skies. Tornado #3 (1989, AGO), for example, is a tactile sheet of handmade paper, loaded with paint running down the page in streaks, showing a glowing sky splitting in two under the force of raging black clouds and the tornado they have unleashed. True to his early ambitions, where he preferred to evoke an understanding of nature rather than produce a realistic likeness, these watercolours convey awesome force with minimal means.