Ivan Eyre, "Orange Tower," 1963, oil on canvas, 81.1 cm x 66.6 cm, Collection of the Winnipeg Art Gallery, gift of the Womens' Committee in memory of Mr. John A. Russell.
IVAN EYRE, figure ground
The Winnipeg Art Gallery
Through August 28, 2005
By Scott Barham
figure ground: paintings and drawings of Ivan Eyre will likely be The Winnipeg Art Gallery’s (WAG) key show of the year, in part because Eyre’s vision — nordic, boreal, and bunkered — reminds Winnipeg of its view of itself.
This retrospective steers its course through five decades of Eyre’s work, including a thematic group of lesser-known early yellow ground oil paintings and varied drawings. These early works reveal a range of influences — Beckman, Van Gogh and traces of the Northern Renaissance — which continue to inform the tone of his art to this day.
As this is a significant concentration of pieces, and a show very much worth seeing, one hopes that the WAG’s plans for the exhibit to travel will come to fruition.
Eyre’s work rarely bends to prevailing artistic winds. Throughout his career he has chosen influences from art history without regard for fashion and quite against the idea of a linear progression in art. There were many clubs of the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s that he was most successful in not joining.
By the 1970s Eyre arrived at the large landscape treatments that define the show, creating immaculate pointillist tangles. Some of these acrylic paintings are played out as straight landscape, often viewed from high ground. In others, edges and foreground are populated by an austere interplay of silhouette and form that operates in a more psychologically overt manner. These paintings — watchful, pensive and remote — set one’s view against the incalculable enormity of northern brush, ridges and tills… the impossible endlessness of the terrain left behind by glaciers.
Despite the cool beauty of these horizons there is something vaguely threatening here. The tone is defensive, accenting the dichotomy of the artist’s attachment and isolation. Lonely yet balanced, we witness Eyre’s “observed truce” between artist and landscape.
One can see why in the late ’60s Eyre left oils behind — his weren’t particularly good. You have the feeling that had he not achieved what he did achieve with acrylic, he might not be much known at all. In acrylic, his optically complex executions are well served by the paint’s deadpan unanimity of surface. It underlines Eyre’s craft and his impartiality. The sheen and flair of oil would break the spell created by the tensions between his myriad points of colour.
Self portraiture is a continuing thread in these works. Eyre often depicts himself, head shrouded with paper, as if he had arrived wounded after borrowing a dressing from Van Gogh, pursued like a scarecrow by Bruegel’s hunters over snowy Manitoba fields.