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ECC goes surreal

Gregg Simpson isn't one for standing around.

Gregg Simpson isn't one for standing around.

The Bowen Island artist, who has received critical acclaim on the national and international art scene for more than 40 years, was at the Evergreen Cultural Centre Monday and in a rush to unload his large-scale paintings for his upcoming show, Out of the Woods.

Tall and lanky, Simpson's fluid energy is reflected in his paintings of the forest - that is, his abstract surrealist take on the forest.

"It's more the density, the patterning of the rain forest," he explained of the huge canvases filled with lively colour. "I'm not trying to re-do Emily Carr in any sense."

Simpson describes his technique as automatism and mark making - a spontaneous, free-flowing approach to painting that starts with drenching the canvas with water and then laying down strokes "like calligraphy," he explains in a Bravo documentary about the artist.

"Slowly the strokes become forms, then I add colour to the forms and it becomes a mosaic of colour. The painting tells me what to do next."

The result is less about capturing the greens and browns of a typical West Coast forest than expressing the dynamism of nature. "As an abstract painter in B.C., the best you can do with a landscape is to represent a detail or inner force to it," he adds.

Simpson acknowledges that when surrealism is mentioned, most people think of Salvador Dali, a comparison he'd like to avoid. Instead, Simpson cites influences like Juan Miro, Andre Masson and particularly Willem de Kooning, who "transformed surrealism into abstract expressionism."

Paintings in Out of the Woods are drawn from three different series - Island Passages, Simpson's response to his new Bowen Island home, Improvised Landscapes and Personal Totems, which features the emergence of figurative forms.

If viewers get the sense that Simpson's paintings evoke a lyrical, rhythmic feeling it's because the artist is also an accomplished jazz drummer.

For more information about Simpson and his work, visit

Out of the Woods runs Nov. 18 to Dec. 10 at the Evergreen Cultural Centre. An opening reception, with the artist in attendance, is on Nov. 20 from 4 to 6 p.m. Visitors can get a guided tour of the exhibition Saturdays at 2 p.m.

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