Paintings from the flipside

6 MayExhibitions

Ewan McDougall didn’t make his start as an artist until later in life. His youth was high-octane, high-speed, and often just plain high, a place where a discipline like painting had little place.

“I lived the partying life,” Ewan recalls. “I played the drums in a rock and roll band. But eventually the drugs brought me to my knees. Now painting is, for me, a different kind of excitement.”

He was 40 years old when he picked up a brush in earnest. Brushing off the “it’s too late, you’ll never make it” naysayers, Ewan launched into his paintings with the same energy he devoted to partying. He worked in his garden shed, sometimes so intensely that when he looked up from the canvas again, the English winter would have snowed him in.

Ewan initially tried to paint in a realist style, but quickly found that, paradoxically, it conflicted with his perfectionist nature. “It didn’t suit me. If I make a mistake I want it incorporated into the work.” He turned to impasto.

The thick ribbons of paint characteristic of the impasto technique, squeezed onto the canvas directly from the tube, take a long time to dry. If Ewan’s using oils, this quality allows him to leave a work, think on it and come back later. He doesn’t plan anything – “I just see what comes out” – and if it’s still not coming together thematically, he’ll just paint over it entirely.

“I love painting over things. It frees them up a lot.”

Most if not all of his highly stylised figures appear to be in the nude, a choice inspired by Australian Aboriginal and Native American art, but also driven by his dislike of painting clothes. Although many of his works reflect the dangerous times and places he lived through, he always tries to keep the mood light.

“I don’t like my work to be bleak. I like there to be something uplifting in it.”

See Ewan McDougall talk visitors through the creation of a new painting. Fun and Fury is open in the Gallery building until 7 August.

Images: Musos Club (detail), Ewan McDougall

WwOl62BhRob Mildon is Te Manawa’s flipside correspondent