Stripeyism is Ewan McDougall’s latest development. Recently, the Dunedin expressionist painted a red figure – eyes boggling and hair standing on end – bang in front of a stripy background. ‘Kowabunga’, he called it. He looked at it. He began other paintings, this time inverting his method. The stripes came to the fore and, he says, “The paintings came to life.”
The vivid stripes of this new genre are often squeezed lavishly from tubes of oil paint. This prevents tapering and enables robust lines. The colours snort, clang, buzz – they’re impolite. They’re wildly alive and happy to be together, endlessly coupling. Colours clash: yellow, red and orange stripes bask on a pink ground, or lime, red, black, yellow and blue cohabit on an orange ground.
Stylised figures jive in every painting. Faceless or eyeless and with nubs of teeth, they cavort under a lunatic moon. They declare the body to be a contact sport. Someone’s hand hugs someone else’s shoulder. They’re acrobats, stacked on each other. Visiting him at his Broad Bay studio, I draw the artist’s attention to this. “Picasso’s Saltimanques,” he replies. “The stacked figures represent instability, humility.” He looks at the painting, a triptych. “I enjoy puns and visual metaphors.” Other such puns include men with gut feelings – represented as dancers in their gut – or with wild ideas – figures literally emerge from a head. This artist gets quickly and cleanly to the psychosomatic truth.
Among a dozen similar motifs is a wolf. The artist is often interested in the human condition, in homo homoni lupis – man’s a wolf to man – but in this instance these are just playful dogs. “These are happy paintings,” he says.
And they are. While it would be wrong to call McDougall a realist painter, the fact is that these paintings exact that aforementioned psychosomatic realism: a jubilant, batty liberty, a profound feeling state that many viewers may recognise personally. In ‘Happy Jack’, stripes take on a life of their own, they sail through the sky like disorderly jelly beans. Indeed, many of the images have a jack-in-the-box briskness to them. This artist composes his paintings with a comfortable intensity. Unselfconsciously, figures launch in all directions, nor is there any shortage of them.
Little secrets abound. A tiny woman dives headlong into her suitor’s great, gaping mouth. Spot the word ‘love’ hidden as his impasto white teeth and within their fuchsia background. Eyes blip as impasto in a topsy turvy green face, hidden under a self-same green stripe. Judiciously, to calibrate the gloss of all this impasto, McDougall finishes every work with a coat of varnish.
Several contemporaries have influenced McDougall. Fellow painter Peter Cleverly, he explains, gave him the idea of painting his amusing titles directly on the front of his canvases, and the political activism of the late Australian painter Gordon Bennett made a lasting impression on him. Visually, Bennett went in for the stick figure too, and for combining rough gestures with intricate ones.
Ewan McDougall’s Stripyism is a generous, uninhibited show for all ages and tastes. Widely accessible due to their brightness and pictorial legibility, these paintings are a feast for the eyes and a radiant manifesto of the sheer joy of impulsive and intuitive living. Ironically, it took a very grounded and dedicated, unique practitioner to create them. These are open works. A real gift.
Review by Angela Trolove, reprinted with permissions from Galllery De Novo.
Ewan McDougall is a Dunedin painter who has been exhibiting for 30 years. He has had 100 solo exhibitions, has shown in five NZ Public Galleries and also exhibited in London, NYC, Sydney, St Ives, Cremona and Valencia. He is a prize winner or Finalist in prominent NZ Art Awards and has paintings in many Public Collections. He prizes spontaneity, colour, vibrant primitive figures and a lashings of irony.