Fresh Forest Eyre

"Fresh Forest Eyre"
By Tom Smart 
July 9th, 2011

Winnipeg artist Ivan Eyre has spent a life describing the landscape of the mind.

Eyre takes the imagination to the edges of memory in exquisitely realized paintings of mountainous and scrub-filled country. Neither specific nor completely abstracted, there is just enough specific description in any one of Eyre's paintings a viewer might vaguely recall a real place that could be its subject.

But this is never the case in Eyre's landscapes. They are entirely conjured up from his mind and memory. They surface from his richly poetic visual sensibility and are described in a manner betraying the hand of a master entirely at ease in any style or mode of representation. Eyre's worlds exist entirely as art and on the fringes of reality. It's as if a dream had been accurately set down with all its recognizable elements, all its strange relationships, juxtapositions and irrational logic. The hallmark of Eyre's career has been its artistic purity. Art is ultimately about art, a truism no better illustrated than in Eyre's body of work for more than the past half century. Drawing, painting, sculpture—all the mediums of personal expression—are at his command and under his control.

A day in Eyre's studio might begin by drawing the figure, or interpreting a mood or feeling as a drawn glyph. A painting, usually in a very large format, stands at one end of the room awaiting his attention. Its presence might interrupt Eyre working quietly at the table where an armature stands half covered with clay and plasticine. He moves from the two-dimensional to the three-dimensional as easily as stepping across the studio floor.

Expression is not encumbered by the limits of media, nor by the awkwardness of muscle and motor ability. Eyre's art is a direct expression of his mind. Hand, eye and imagination are seamlessly connected to conjure the images and figures populating a world only he is able to access and tap into.

The images surfacing from this kinetic, dynamic energy harnessed in the studio exactly fit the meaning of 'surreal.' Figurative forms dance across a sheet of green-tinted paper. A line transforms into a soldier-like man awaiting a foe or adversary. A face is hidden behind a beaked helmet. The range of subjects seems to have no earthly bounds. All are arranged on the pages, graphically and mutely telling truths we all sense, yet are deeply embedded in the unconscious. The familiar takes on an alien cast.

The same is true with his magnificent, majestic canvases. To view Eyre's landscapes is to be willingly abducted by a sorcerer artist and led through the worlds lying before you on the painted surfaces. Eyre's land is the consequent product of an automatic response, channeling the time and moment of creation, describing exactly a world existing parallel to our own, on a different frequency he brings back from invisibility for us to see, populate and make our own.

On a recent early summer evening during a walk in a forest north of Toronto, I came upon a garden [at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection] with nearly a dozen of Eyre's bronze sculptures. Their gigantic forms, well larger than life-size, towered above the forest floor, holding a silent conversation with the trees and foliage, rocks and roadway. Yet, they were defiantly aloof to walkers on the pathways winding around these gargantuan, still presences. Here, in this garden, a curator shows us Eyre's mind has created a theatre of Shakespearean proportions.

The effect on that evening's stroll was akin to happening upon a play within a play, a gallery in a forested glade in which sprites and spirits assumed the overwhelming scales and attitudes of these sculptures. The sheer massiveness of the bronzes, the audacity of their creator's imagination, all dared a viewer to find a frame of reference for appreciating and understanding what they had come upon in this secret place.

Eyre's sculpture garden is a perfect emblem of the many layers comprising reality. If our world is a construct of the mind—our moods, intelligences and imagination—then this garden offers a perceptive viewer instant access to dimensions of reality and truth frequently buried. Eyre's great gift as an artist, symbolized by this garden and its giant, still citizens, is to remind us of the ability of the imagination to create worlds that alter our perceptions of space, time and the human condition.

The device of the play within a play, of art glossing art, often illuminates illusions, misperceptions, deceptions and lies. The fruits that grow in Eyre's garden remind us what is best in us comes encased in strange hulls and with complex, beautiful tastes.

Tom Smart is a writer and curator living in Toronto, Ontario.

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