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 William Paterson Ewen  (1925 - 2002)

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Lived/Active: Quebec/Ontario / Canada      Known for: large-scale expressionistic painting and collage

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Paterson Ewen  D.Litt., D.Lett., LL.D, RCA, NFAAM (1925 – 2002)

Paterson Ewen (AKA: William Paterson Ewen) was a painter, printmaker and educator.  He was born in Montreal, Quebec and died in London, Ontario where he had lived since 1968 (1).

His most famous works are large (e.g. 8’ X 12’) acrylics and collages on gouged (using router or chisel) plywood (2).  He has also worked on more traditional supports like canvas and paper using oil, watercolor, gouache, crayon, pastel, graphite, Japanese ink, felt pen, and lithography.  His most famous subjects are natural phenomena  which include astronomical objects like suns, moons, comets, galaxies and meteorological events like falling rain, thunder clouds, lightning strikes. He refers to these as “phenomenascapes".  His other subjects include landscapes, figures, social commentary, color, shape and texture.  His styles evolved through the decades from expressionist landscapes to Abstract Expressionism, Automatism, Hard Edge abstraction, and finally to his signature version of Fauvism.

Quotes:  “I don’t believe too much in originality… you learn art from other art and then looking into somebody’s face or landscape is the point of departure to do your work of art.”  And "I was tired of canvas and brushes, I thought I'd paint a single plywood unit, gouge it out like a woodcut and take prints of it. I realized when I was doing this that I was not going to take a print - this was the work."  And on becoming an artist: "… I thought I would never be one because to be an artist you had to have God-given talent - which meant that when you drew a cow it didn't look like a horse."

- Paterson Ewen

His art education included studies under John Lyman at McGill University, Montreal (1946 -1947) and under Arthur Lismer, Goodridge Roberts, William Walton Armstrong, Marian Scott, and Jacques de Tonnancour (see all teachers in AskART) at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts School of Art and Design (1948 - 1950).  He taught at the Visual Arts Department of the University of Western Ontario, London from 1972 to 1988. He also taught summers at Banff School of Fine Arts, Alberta (1976); and at the Nova Scotia College of Art & Design, Halifax (1977).

His close associates through the years have included Montreal artists Guido Molinari and Claude Tousignant; and London Ontario artists Greg Curnoe, Jack Chambers and David Rabinowitch (see all in AskART).

He was a co-founder of the Non-Figurative Artists' Association of Montreal (1956, President 1960) and elected to the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts (1975). During World War II he served with the Canadian Army infantry in the Netherlands (1943 - 1946).

In addition to exhibiting with the above artist associations he (and posthumously his works ) also exhibited at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (1950, 1957, 1960, 1961); at  “Espace ‘55”, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (1955); in the “Watercolor Biennale” at the Brooklyn Museum, New York (1959); in Spoleto, Italy (1962); in the 7th Biennial of Canadian Painting at the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa (1968); in ”Three Generations of Quebec Painting” at the Montreal Museum of Contemporary Art (1977); in the “Seven Canadian Painters” exhibition which toured New Zealand and Australia (1977); in “Ten Canadian Artists in the 1970s” at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto (1980); in “20th Century Canadian Painting” at the National Gallery of Canada (1981); at the Norman Mackenzie Art Gallery, Regina (1982); in the Venice Biennale (1982); at the Art Gallery of Peterborough, Ontario ( 1985,1994); at the Montreal Museum of Contemporary Art (1988, 1994); at the Vancouver Art Gallery, B.C. (2002); Museum London, Ontario (2002, 2004); at the Art Gallery of Ontario (2003, 2005, 2006); at the  Ottawa Art Gallery, Ontario (2005); at the National Gallery of Canada (2005); and at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, Fredericton, New Brunswick (2007).

Of special note, in 1958 he was one of the 10 Quebec painters who exhibited with the Painters Eleven (see AskART glossary) at the Park Gallery, Toronto.  It was the only time P11 had a joint show with the avant-garde artists of French Canada.  Some of the other artists included were Jean-Paul Riopelle, Paul Borduas and Alfred Pellan (see all in AskART).  

The public venues for his solo and retrospective exhibitions include Museum London, Ontario (1976); the Vancouver Art Gallery, B.C. (1977, 1993); the National Gallery of Canada (1977); the Mendel Art Gallery, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan (1988); the Art Gallery Of Ontario (1988, 1996); the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (1989); the Art Gallery of Hamilton, Ontario (1992); and the Art Gallery of North York, Ontario (1998).

His works are avidly collected.  They are also in numerous public collections including the Art Gallery of Hamilton (Ontario), the Vancouver Art Gallery, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, the Montreal Museum of Contemporary Art, Museum London, the Kitchener - Waterloo Art Gallery (Ontario), Brandeis University (Massachusetts), the Amsterdam Civic Museum (Netherlands), the Museum of Quebec (Quebec City), the Winnipeg Art Gallery (Manitoba), and the Art Gallery of Windsor (Ontario). The National Gallery of Canada has 18 Ewen works in its permanent collection.  The Art Gallery of Ontario is the home of the Paterson Ewen Archives and a study center for scholars of his work.  Ewen's masterwork,  Halley’s Comet as seen by Giotto (3) was one of the listed highlights when the new Art Gallery of Ontario opened on November 14, 2008 (4).

Among his awards and honors are three honorary doctorates. The University of Western Ontario, London, also named him Professor Emeritus.

He is listed in A Dictionary of Canadian Artists (1974), by Colin S. MacDonald; in The Collector's Dictionary of Canadian Artists at Auction (2001), by Anthony R. Westbridge and Diana L. Bodnar; and in Art and Architecture in Canada (1991), by Loren R. Lerner and Mary F. Williamson.  He and his work are discussed in most books about Canadian art history and modern art in Canada.  There is also the book Paterson Ewen (1996), editor Matthew Teitelbaum, published by Douglas & McIntyre and the Art Gallery of Ontario in conjunction with the 1996 retrospective at the Art Gallery of Ontario.

Footnotes:

(1) His move to London is said to be the result of a nervous breakdown and separation from his wife artist Françoise Sullivan (see AskART), whom he’d met in 1949 and had been married to for 17 years with four children.

(2) This technique was developed, as described in paragraph three, in 1970.

(3) Halley’s Comet as seen by Giotto created in 1979 is 7.5' X 8' acrylic and fluorescent paint on galvanized steel and gouged plywood.

(4) The new AGO was designed by Frank Gehry (see AskART).

 
Prepared and contributed by M.D. Silverbrooke

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