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Philip Grant endured as a force in Hamilton art

Artist Philip Grant has always found himself drawn into that dynamic abstract space where we face the challenges of problem-solving — ever since he was a boy who loved math.

In art (especially abstract art), problem-solving is perhaps even more complex and important than in the sciences because there are no right answers or procedural exactitudes. No algorithmic pathways that take us toward irrefutable conclusions. But problem-solving it still is.

Which, perhaps, is why art produces such exciting and unexpected, sometimes harrowing, results.

Grant, 59, loves the problem-solving. He just wished the problems, in his personal situation, didn’t have to have such magnitude and weren’t quite so obstinately overwhelming so much of the time. Still, he soldiers on.

Philip Grant examines one of his paintings.
Philip Grant examines one of his paintings.Barry Gray/The Hamilton Spectator

Over a long and robust career as an artist in Hamilton, Philip has managed to create a successful body of work in a particularly difficult medium — encaustic, which involves mixing pigment into molten wax — and much of that work addresses themes of mental illness, touching on or at least affected by his own case of bipolar for which he was prescribed lithium. The work got shaped into being despite his troubles and struggles and the challenges of encaustic, or perhaps partly because of them.

Now he has a show on, since October and running to February, called “Algebra For Beginners.”

It is, I think some of his best work, and it is his first show since he suffered a stroke three years. Problem-solving.

Philip grants,
Philip grant, “Quanitive Equation,” mixed media on board, 2022.Barry Gray/The Hamilton Spectator

“It (the stroke and recovery from it) really slows down my process,” says Philip. It takes him longer to produce work — encaustic can be quite physical — and it requires him to be more methodical but that can be a good thing.

There has always been a meditative quality to Philip’s work, for all of its dramatic movement and play of colour, perhaps more so now than ever.

His latest encaustics, like many of his earlier pieces, evoke a sense of skyscape, landscape and horizon, even though they are unquestionably abstract.

As in the past the painted wax forms a kind of skin that partially obscures a collage of other materials, in this case pieces ripped from the pages of a 1916 book called “Algebra For Beginners” and from other sources as well. There are fragments of algebraic formulas, of maps, of dress pattern illustrations and of a 1950s telephone book.

Philip Grant,
Philip Grant, “Involution,” mixed media on board, 2022.Barry Gray/The Hamilton Spectator

In paintings like Dirac’s Equation #3 and Involution, Grant works his materials together — the collage, the wax, the pigment — in lush dripping rhythms of revelation and concealment.

His colors in this show are wrestling somersaults of blue and white, sometimes icy, sometimes cloudy, sometimes more warmly skylike, which press down from the top upon braided bands of red, green, yellow, blue and various tonalities thereof. These bands run in a kind of horizontal opposition to the raining/snowing verticals above.

The results are at once hypnotic and turbulently dramatic and always a seduction to the eyes, made richer yet by the wonderful textural life that the encaustic imparts to them.

Philip Grant,
Philip Grant, “Half-Penny Less,” mixed media on canvas, 2022.Barry Gray/The Hamilton Spectator

The paintings work as abstracts but they inevitably stimulate associative leaps. When I tell him they feel like rain to me he says others have told him snow storms. “The color is poetic and I had someone say they think of the drips as aliens ascending.” To each their own.

“In my subconscious,” says Grant, “they are landscapes. It’s a grounding. Sometimes it feels like magnets, gravity’s pull to earth.”

In his program notes he wrote, “Landscape, especially the mountains (of Banff where he once worked in the hotels) and the sea (after Alberta he toured the east coast), have always been a part of my view and soul, turbulent that it might be.”

He says, “I paint the summation of memory.”

Of course, part of that memory, that summation, is his early fascination with math, the sciences and engineering. Problem-solving. In this show, he uses algebra as a shorthand for that impulse. In the past he has used chemistry and diagrammatic fragments of the periodic table, especially lithium, to perform a similar function.

“A strong interest in science underpins the beeswax (of the encaustic), like the memory of the left hemisphere that seeps into the opaque surface of a clouded vision,” he says.

This show is a striking, thoughtful and visually rewarding reminder of Grant’s enduring talent and ideas and really should be seen.

Philip Grant,
Philip Grant, “Stanfast,” mixed media sculpture, 2021.Barry Gray/The Hamilton Spectator

It also includes some of Grant’s “box” found-object assemblage art including a powerful piece, using parts of a discarded piano to create a visual allegory of George Floyd’s death.

“Algebra For Beginners,” is on at Gallery 1051, 1051 Upper James in Hamilton, until February.

Contact Gallery 1051 for hours (905-387-1479).