There are artists you have no need to ask why they paint. John Eaton paints to commune with nature. He is in a constant, profound discourse with his surroundings, reverberating with the ebb and flow of what we call life. Not the urban kind. Ensconced on his magnificent country property bordered by the glistening boulders of the Canadian Shield, he is one with nature, and in perfect tune with his inner being. Nurtured by scenery that is as breathtaking as it is overwhelming, he seems to be absorbed in an endless creative process, whether he is painting or not. There is something disarmingly guileless in Eaton’s approach to his metier for he is bolstered by an inner conviction that goes beyond words and straight onto canvas.

Eaton works in an airy, whitewashed studio he constructed from bales of straw, the nature at his doorstep, and beside him in the shape of his greatest inspiration, a giant white Percheron named Goya. The horse is an enduring symbol, one that has appeared in art from the beginning of art-making, from cave drawings to historical monuments, our constant companion… In Eaton’s paintings, he takes both centre stage and second plan, but his presence is felt throughout. It is the spirit of nature embodied in a magnificent creature that the artist treats like a pet, allowing it to roam his property at will.

The fact that Eaton’s muse is a giant, sensuous animal helps in understanding his creative process, which is equally unencumbered and tactile. For some time he has been painting on doors he purchases in building supplies stores, priming the surface with plaster, creating a heavily textured layer that is itself a beginning of a painting-cum-bas relief. The grooves and ridges that are formed in the process dictate the brushstrokes, and the dance of creation begins in earnest.

Eaton’s imagery is dreamlike and sensual. Entangled human and animal forms, flowing streams and turbulent skies. The narrative is hidden in the layers of paint and density of gesture, yet it is not hiding exactly. It is the same voice one hears when surrounded by nature, calling and calling until one’s eyes begin to see and ears to hear. Eaton imposes nothing on the viewer, but he also pulls no punches. In many of his paintings a quiet drama unfolds, mysterious goings-on disturb the senses and it is difficult to step away from the imagery. Woman Bathing is a vertically flowing composition, all undulating shapes slowly coalescing into a female and animal form surrounded by pulsating energy. The colours swoon together with the forms, all one, all ascending. Eaton’s muse, Goya, leads the way, his body captured with profound gentleness. The emotional component is inescapable, and captivating. It almost takes away from the appreciation of the actual plastic aspect of the painting, its composition and colour scheme. Or perhaps on the contrary, it manifests the visual.

Darkness seeps into some of the works, but it too, is the darkness of nature, of the night sky, that seems to trigger a different kind of expression as in Draft Horse in the Night. A white horse grazes against an abstracted, hysterical background of brushstrokes, white streaks against ebony black, with dabs of red like licks of fire. This is nature unleashed, unrepentant, amoral, and it seems as if a satanic eye was staring out from the swirl of paint and creative vigour. Before panic sets in, the figure of the horse, just there to the lower right, offers a panacea, both visual and visceral.

A major component of Eaton’s oeuvre is movement. This is by no coincidence, for he has studied choreography and there is something of the body dictating the composition that is impossible to ignore. His works are indeed choreographed, instinctively, in most part unintentionally, but that does not really matter. Dance, poetry, philosophy, all are part of his creative process. Eaton is a consummate and versatile artist, and his art is a reflection of his being as much as a product of a creative mind. This septuagenarian is as young in front of his canvas as a child, each painting a new chapter, and another addition to the vast volume of visual expression that one day could simply be called Eaton’s book of life.

His latest exhibition is organized by Montreal gallerist Lydia Monaro who has represented Eaton for decades, and this time is presenting his works in Bromont, Quebec, whose landscape is perfectly suited as backdrop to his paintings. 

John Eaton
Lydia Monaro Gallery, Bromont
June 19th—July 9th 2017