Lawrence Edwards is not an artist afraid of scars, to paraphrase Dan Nadaner “his mark is not beautiful: it deconstructs beauty. It is a kind of common experience, set in opposition to the Western tradition that presents image making as a uniquely significant experience”. Those words were originally written about Cy Twombly, and Edwards like Twombly, seems to relish a challenge in situ– his fearsome and haunting figures seem to take on these challenges – propped up by stakes, weighed down by heavy loads and contorted by a grievous sense of self these grotesques (if I may call them that) could be seen as voodoo priests performing the rites of exorcism.
It is precisely the sense of conflict in his work that provides a key to its content and locates his practice within the realm of contemporary relevancy. Progressive art has always been in conflict with itself and rarely more so has the fall out of inner tensions been so prescient as at the present time. If we heed Franz Marc’s famous assertion of 1913 that “all being is flaming suffering” we are reminded of the challenge laid down to the artist creator to pass through the scorching interim and peer into the abyss, therein forging a truer sense of beauty. Indeed in Mr Edwards practice we find an artist with a glowing appetite for these challenges, the least of which centres on a reconciliation between the ritualistic methodology of his practice and the critical organisation of practo-centric theorising. On a fundamental level he has set his practice up on battlefield. He works in the archaic marshes of the East Anglian coast which, as Conrad’s Marlow reminds us, were the shores that sandaled feet first set upon on to coax civilisation from a wet, turbulent darkness. The very reeds whisper of a primeval essence. Yet these are now gentrified lands, extensions of the home counties where affluent retirees of city banks settle to live the ‘good life’. Furthermore Edwards has magnetized the site into variously; a social club, an artist collective, a private foundry, and amongst these – a studio. The isolation can at times feel markedly pervasive and at others an idyllic backdrop meekly quashed by the bustle of busy makers. This schizophrenic relation between a state of nature and a civilised state, between the primitive and the prim is reflected in the work itself. Figuration, despite its suspiciously silent return to the mainstream of today’s art world, is still, critically speaking, the most problematic of imagery. Yet, like the German painters of the 1980’s Edwards’ figures seem to be distorted projections of the reflected self rather than the architects of the swaying sky scrapers of enlightened and rationalistic modernist tradition.
In terms of critical theory Edwards’ work lays itself open to charges from a wide spectrum. His figures are monumental; embedded in the past, decaying emblems of a reified and canonical paternalising tradition, swaying in mystic aura and masking the repressions of its bloody history. However these tiresome complaints of inverted and short sighted postmodern absolutism are laughably ill equipped to deal with today’s problems regarding representation and figuration. Edwards’ work seems to follow the path laid out by Thomas Lawson in his heraldic essay ‘Last exit Painting”, in which Lawson argued that the traditional modes of representation, if infiltrated, offer the best possibilities to subvert the monstrous rigidity of higherarchical modernism, whose structures may have been rocked by the semiotic advances of the 1960’s and the subsequent visual-culture practices regarding fragmentation and dispersion, yet remain concrete in cultures’ wider societal sphere, most especially in the market and shared morality. Indeed these bronze figures can be seen as metaphors for their own impotency, seemingly possessed by gargantuan archaic strength they are humbled by a realisation of the inadequacy and unimportance of what it means to be ‘made man’ in a world where we are starting to fully appreciate the futility the individual despite the shroud of celebrity and self-empowerment with which we suspend our belief. We live in a society void of absolutes, and this realisation gives liberty to relaxation of imperatives, we are free to look around at our creations with ridicule, to sieve through the debris and see our mountains as mounds; for when there are no absolutes to strive for it is the strife that we must treasure. No mode of imagery better embodies this revelation than the figure. It is a means of measuring ourselves, and as Lacan pointed out, it is with erotic fascination and fear through which we first recognize ourselves in relation to the world. The conclusion Edwards’s draws, embracing the intuitive fumblings and mutilations of the child-artist-becoming-man, is that being a man now, and to take oneself seriously, is a faintly ridiculous thing to be. Men have made a world in which they are fast becoming surplus to requirements (biologically speaking at least)– a position they have in common with the artist whose has long fought to reconcile the fervent desire to create with the functional vacuity of his creations.
It is this paradox that seems to scar the hands, faces, limbs and heads of Edwards’ figures. They are sometimes all flesh and no structure with tiny heads dwarfed by ever expanding bodies in a gratuitous process of self-consumption. Others are impaled upon the supports which are intended to hold them up (rather like a head speared by its own spine), and others are cut down by loads they intended to hold. These physiognomic adventures reference multifarious instances of decline and fall commensurate to our own – from the metaphysical ratiocincity of Veronese and Cellini to Mannerist excesses and distortions, from crucifixions and classical mythology to the victims of modern warfare, the carcasses of road kill and the haunting theatricality of drama the way Artaud wished it to be. The content of these pieces is essential to an appreciation of the practice that conceived them. Whatever else they may be, first and foremost they are self-referential, symbiotically entwined with the clay, the earth. When asked why his are figures always male Edwards answers; “because they’re me”. The voodoo priest purges himself through the dolls he creates, the sinner is freed of his sins and the artist exorcises through the inversions of his mirror image. In this sense Edwards’ figures recall the golems of the 19th century in their reconciliation of the muddy earth wih the unearthly beyond. As a result, Edwards seems a remarkably emotionally stable man, he must be at home in his struggle. As well he might because the process from initial (perhaps en plein air) mark making and conceptualisation, through the technical ardours of mould making, wax making etc etc, to the finished piece, presents a fresh challenge at every turn. It is to Edwards’ credit that he is on hand to deal with these confrontations that could easily throw ones intentions off course, instead they are taken as the anticipated dramas of the work, the variables which one can only deal with when they arise, and in turn they become integral to the work, they are as much a part of the birth of the sculpture as the initial drawing. The risers, the supports, the piece of straw, the slip of the chisel, the unplanned crack or breakage are absorbed by the form and are scars worn proudly, reflective of the futility of trying to maintain a finite and rigid idea of how thing should be.
IVAN KNAPP 16th August 2010