Artwork by William Paterson Ewen,  Untitled (1955)

Paterson Ewen
Untitled (1955)

oil on canvas
signed and dated 1955 lower right
60 x 86.75 ins ( 152.4 x 220.3 cms )

Sold for $29,900.00
Sale date: November 22nd 2016

SUNY New Paltz, School of Education, New York
Private Collection, New York
Private Collection, British Columbia
Matthew Teitelbaum (ed.), “Paterson Ewen,” Toronto, 1996, pages 47, 49 and 51
A Montreal native, Paterson Ewen attended classes at the School of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts from 1948-1950, studying under Goodridge Roberts, Arthur Lismer, William Armstrong, among others. As a student he was also influenced by European Post-Impressionist artists, which is apparent in the fractured surfaces of his landscapes, still lifes and portraits. Ewen’s painterly approach shifted upon encountering Francoise Sullivan, an automatist dancer, whom he would marry in December 1949. He was introduced to automatism through Sullivan’s writings, as well as her enduring friendships with Quebec abstract painters of the group ‘les automatistes’ Jean-Paul Mousseau and Pierre Gauvreau. Ewen’s entry into the largely francophone art scene through his wife came at a moment when the Automatistes were separating and disagreeing over intellectual positions. Yet these artists took a liking to Ewen and encouraged his early 1950s figurative paintings which demonstrated a breakdown of subject matter. Nevertheless, they of course rejected any representational imagery, believing that “abstraction offered the truest release from the constraints of order.”

“Untitled” (1955) was painted during Paterson Ewen’s breakthrough into fully abstract compositions. Ewen’s work of the time was characterized by a “dominant, gridlike calligraphy that was opened, centralized, and organized by concentric thrust.” “Untitled’s” twisting lines contain a calligraphic effect that would recall the writing and drawing of Surrealist automatism. However, unlike the Automatistes, who relied heavily on effects of the palette knife and dripping paint, Ewen maintained a more flattened composition with muted colours. During these years, Ewen found himself a latecomer to the Montreal abstract art scene and never fully associated a particular group or strategy, be it the gestural technique of the Automatistes or the rigid canvases of Les Plasticiens. His “predominant aesthetic was a loosely based abstract lyricism rooted in the observation of natural phenomenon.” Ewen’s preliminary non-representational compositions of the mid-1950s, such as “Untitled”, are more gestural than those of the subsequent ten years, where he explored geometric forms, loosely affiliated to hard-edge painting.

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William Paterson Ewen
(1925 - 2002) RCA

Paterson Ewen was born in 1925 in Montreal, Quebec. His interest in art began after his discharge from the Canadian army at the close of the Second World War. He attended McGill University from 1946-47 where he studied geology and fine arts under John Lyman. From 1948-50 he took classes at the School of Art and Design at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, studying under Goodridge Roberts, Arthur Lismer, William Armstrong, and Jacques de Tonnancour.

His works of the late 1940s reveal a range of interests and, particularly, the influence of Goodridge Roberts. By the mid 1950s, he had begun a 16-year exploration of abstraction, at first with gestural and then, by 1964, with geometric forms loosely related to hard-edge painting. While in Montreal he was connected to the artists of the Automatiste movement, and became a member of the Non-Figurative Artists' Association of Montreal, founded in 1956. As its President in 1960 he wrote the introduction for the Association’s exhibition catalogue; the showing was at the National Gallery of Canada and was organized by Claude Picher who was at that time the Gallery’s Eastern Representative.

In 1961, Dorothy Pfeiffer noted his work as follows, “Ominous and somber, yet paradoxically painted in intense, rich, colour, the thickly modelled, prodded, plastered and raked expressions of Canadian artist, Paterson Ewen, as seen at Galerie Denyse Delrue, transfix one’s almost awed attention . . . To my mind, Paterson Ewen’s brilliantly demoniac paintings add an archaic echo to the 20th Century’s clamorous unrest and fear . . .”

In 1968 Ewen moved to London, Ontario where he taught at the Visual Arts Department of the University of Western Ontario from 1972 to 1988. Ewen began a new stage in his artistic career in 1971 when his working method and imagery changed dramatically. He started working on plywood instead of canvas, using a router to gouge out powerful images of earthbound and celestial phenomena. Ewen's career was often fragmented by over-arching psychiatric problems and alcoholism. He suffered from severe manic depression and was plagued by poor mental health until his death in 2002. Despite these challenges, Ewen was able to produce an incredibly diverse and influential body of work.

His wife François Sullivan was a dancer and choreographer. Paterson Ewen is represented in major museums and public galleries throughout Canada.

Sources: "A Dictionary of Canadian Artists, Volume I: A-F", compiled by Colin S. MacDonald, Canadian Paperbacks Publishing Ltd, Ottawa, 1977