Paterson Ewen's Words and Work

IN movement and speech, Paterson Ewen, a tall, square-framed man, with monotonic vocal delivery, seems rarely to betray the emotion and feeling he reserves for his art. At work on a painting, however, he is an entirely different person. You likely would see him kneeling at the center of a large sheet of plywood, raised on two sawhorses. He is wearing hockey pads strapped to his knees, a dust mask, earmuffs to deaden sound, and safety goggles. He is attacking the plywood with an electric router. With the router, said Eric Fischl, a New York painter and admirer of Ewen, ``he found a way of talking.''

The ``talking'' Ewen does, from the middle of his universe of personal expression, has to do with materials taking on the function of phenomena. ``The physical beginning involves gathering materials and tools in advance of the struggle,' he once explained, ``wood, machine tools, paint, and a myriad of things. A length of wire becomes rain, a piece of link fence becomes fog, and so on, obviously a physical activity running parallel with the fermenting images in my head.''

During our chat he told me, ``I don't do much planning. I get an image in my mind and I keep it there, even weeks, and when I have it solid enough I go to work on it.'' His influences have come from far and wide, including J.M.W. Turner, John Constable, and Albert Pinkham Ryder.

Taking it all together - the materials and methods - the result is that Ewen has found a ``strategy to make landscape painting vital again,'' according to Roald Nasgaard, chief curator at the Art Gallery of Ontario. ``Whether or not that was his intention,'' Nasgaard added, ``that's what he achieved.''

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