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Painter Viktor Mitic gives new meaning to the term 'watercolour'

Toronto artist Viktor Mitic in 2009

Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail

It happened by accident, as so much creative work does. "I usually paint outside," Viktor Mitic says of the origin of his "rain paintings," which have their first Canadian showing at Toronto's Gallery Moos on Thursday, in conjunction with the release of a related book and short film. "I had lunch and there was a big storm. I totally forgot about it, but went back out and noticed the rain had produced some interesting effects on the canvas."

Best known for his "bullet paintings" – portraits he makes by shooting through canvases with a revolver – Mitic is clearly influenced by classic experiments in gestural art, from the abstract expressionists of the 1950s to action painters of the 1960s such as Yves Klein, who famously dragged naked, painted bodies over his canvases.

The rain paintings mix planning and sheer chance. "It doesn't matter if you're wearing a poncho. The water seeps in," says Mitic, who battled pneumonia this year due to, he guesses, painting in a frigid March downpour. "You're seeing through wet eyes; you're fighting with the elements. But at the same time you're working at a microscopic scale, always a few seconds ahead. It's a bit like meditation; you can't think too much."

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Galaxy (2006)

Galaxy (2006) reflects this intuitive approach. Rain, not just any water, is the essential ingredient for Mitic: it's the minerals and chemicals in rainwater that separate the pigment from the oil and turpentine with which it is mixed. ("I tried to use a hose. I even tried to recreate the effect of rain from my roof. It didn't have the same effect," he says.) Mitic likes the blue in Galaxy, created by the unique intensity of the rain. "I painted them at the same time," he says of the pair of canvases, "and discovered they looked good together, so they became a diptych."

Ocean #2 (Lobster Monster) (2008)

Mitic's works are conceived abstractly, with no planned figure or landscape in mind – although, as with many works of this kind, likenesses inevitably emerge.

"When a work is dry, I'll look at it and think, 'What does this remind me of?' " Mitic says. "Usually it's a landscape or something." (A series of paintings are named after bodies of water and, like Galaxy, celestial bodies.) The massive, four-by-five-foot Ocean #2 (Lobster Monster) (2008), where indentations of brushwork, washed away by light rain, can be seen on either side of the central shape, was given its unusual title when Mitic's Tokyo gallery wanted to use it to advertise a show. "I thought it looked like a claw," he says, "and the name stuck."

R28 (2009)

For some paintings, such as R28 (2009), Mitic augments nature with a blowtorch. "I use it to build a layer of paint, and get rid of the water. I create the layer myself without it being attached to anything, dry it, and place it onto another area, like a skin graft." This is often done when the rain is particularly intense, to "enhance the overall effect ... like a collage."

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"On the left, you'll see an example of what rain can do," Mitic says of R28. "The green was applied on top of the blue and pink, and the water separated the pigment, got rid of the oil, and it almost looks like a topographical map of Earth."

Mitic's appreciation of the work, a favourite, seems to transcend artistic egoism: "I love the fact that nature can give you something that you can't reproduce by a brush."

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