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Terence Dick
Patterson Ewen at Olga Korper
June 21, 2017

The last time I was in Germany was almost twenty years ago. As I visited the public galleries in all the cities we travelled through, I noticed that each one had at least one work by each member of the post-war Fab Four of the German art scene: a Richter, a Kippenberger, a Polke, and a Kiefer. I was reminded of the latter artist and his earthy accounts of the heavens as I rotated in place and took in Patterson Ewen’s solo exhibition currently on display at Olga Korper.

Patterson Ewen, Milky Way in Stone, 1997, roofing tar, granite, marble on planed and routed plywood

This realization crystalized after I approached his imposing vision of the Milky Way rendered in roofing tar, granite, and chips of marble. The construction materials ably served to represent the enveloping darkness of space and the twinkling dots that push through the black, while also being the very same stuff that makes up our concrete universe, while also serving a metaphorical function by evoking the shattered immensity and sticky sense of our own insignificance that transforms the night as the night transforms us. Kiefer trades in a similar version of the sublime and he also uses workaday matter to get to that place (though, admittedly, on a far grander scale). Ewen, on the other hand, in attempting the impossible task of tracing the outline of the galaxy in which we reside, falters. His approximation of this shape lacks the gravity of the celestial spheres he is justifiably better known for. His single mostly-circular creations are so uniform as to be practically formulaic, but the slight variations in colour, composition, and circumference make each one a unique entry in his collected constellation.

Patterson Ewen, Caged Sunset, 1997, fencing and acrylic paint on plywood

Cataloguing the ways in which he constructs his individual works (which are far more sculptural than painterly, even though they hang on the walls like canvases) or listing the metal hardware that decorate their surfaces would be as interesting as itemizing the time signatures on a Ramones album. It would also be beside the point. Explanations are unnecessary when you’re looking up at the sky, because everyone sees the same sky. What makes a difference is how you make sense of it and artists are the best teachers we have to tell us how to see. When the stars are aligned, they give us a section of the cosmos caught in time and ready to be installed inside a gallery or a home. Ewen was particularly accomplished at this. There’s a universality to the appeal of his orbs, which is why I wouldn’t be surprised to find as many Ewens in regional museum holdings from Newfoundland to the Yukon as Kiefers appear from Karlsruhe to Berlin. On the cusp of the season when urban Canadians are most likely to leave their light-polluting cities and momentarily experience what the night sky can really look like, it’s a blessing to have this late Canadian artist refresh our memories as to the wonders out and up there.

Olga Korper Gallery:
Patterson Ewen continues until July 15.

Terence Dick is a freelance writer living in Toronto. His art criticism has appeared in Canadian Art, BorderCrossings, Prefix Photo, Camera Austria, Fuse, Mix, C Magazine, Azure, and The Globe and Mail. He is the editor of Akimblog. You can follow his quickie reviews and art news announcements on Twitter @TerenceDick.



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