MARK EDWARDS work is compelling, more subreal than surreal - buried deep inside us. Tony Davidson, Kilmorack Gallery, explores his paintings
Enigmas and ironies abound in the work of Mark Edwards. It is a joy to bury deep into the labyrinthine folds of a possible narrative; the hats, snow, trees and train. And it is an equal delight to marvel at Edwards’ remarkable techniques, all honed to make his painting vibrate with colour, resolve in composition and twang with tension.
At first sight ‘The Crossing’ (acrylic on canvas, 100cm x 150cm) shows three men standing looking towards a large early-Georgian house from a sparse copse of pine woodland. It is a snowy but clear day. In the distance a train crosses a viaduct. This is the most superficial level at which you can look at the painting. You then spot the middle man is slightly stooped. Is he being helped to his home or drugged and apprehended? Where are the men’s feet – buried in the show? But it is too even for this. Something is not quite right. Why is there no chimney on the house? My favourite missing part of an Edwards building is in another painting, one called ‘Waiting for the Door to Open.’ It will be a long wait for the two shadowy figures outside the house for there doesn’t appear to be a door at all. This playful side to Edwards makes his work filmic, with shades of Graham Greene and Le Carré. Edwards, however, hasn’t seen many of these films – ‘some yes, but not many.’
Mark Edwards, however, is steeped in books - producing the covers for hundreds of works, including household names such as Kingsley Amis, Beryl Bainbridge, Sue Townsend, Michael Morpurgo and Philip Pulman. A book cover must have many things – all of which are in an Edwards’ paintings. They must have grip and promise, and, if a cover is good, they will be bound together in memory – the déjà vu effect of a Mark Edwards painting.
Below this there are other more surreal narratives. The world depicted isn’t quite like our world. Shadows fall from unexpected light sources. An imagined open door is throwing light onto the scene. Trains can be many things in the winter woods. The more obvious train crosses the viaduct; you see this straight away. Or it can be distilled into its steamy plume behind a wood or, inexplicably, it can come from the ground – a ghost train at graveyard height with nothing visible other than a hazy band across the painting. Most haunting is Edwards’ use of repetition. Is it the same man painted three times in the same painting – quantumly appearing in his own world, populating this empty landscape? Edwards’ repetition of subject only adds to this effect. The man reappears with his Sisyphean task of waiting and watching. A Mark Edwards painting is now no longer the illustration of a story, it is everything. We are looking at the watcher and waiter’s entirety because he is not aware of a larger world. The more Edwards repeats himself, the greater the effect of disorientation.
|Waiting for the Door to Open | acrylic on canvas | 50cm x 65cm|
Deepening narratives are our response when we look at a Mark Edwards painting. But the magic comes from the more old-fashioned rules of composition and colour. Paint and image-making are Edwards’ real muses. His canvases can be seen as completely abstract compositions – well-placed diagonals dividing the image in a way that is mathematically pleasing. The eternal number three appears many times; in windows, figures, trees and diagonals. There is also a graduation of tone that harmonises and balances the work. This, however, is only one element of Edwards technical prowess. If you look closer there is much more. On the surface is the snowy seen we see and I have described, but under this, through the chinks, we catch a glimpse of warmer energetic fields. Technically this is very clever. It creates a pointillist effect that allows the colours to retain their vibrancy and (like many Matisse paintings) these colours are enhanced by the white of the snow and the black of the men’s coats. Subtle variations in the texture are also there in the diagonals which Edwards loves so much. It can be very hard to fully comprehend how this is done, and therein lies the magic.
The final and deepest layer of the Edwards labyrinth is the layer seen through the chinks of texture. It is a coherent world made up of balls of energetic colour – strings, quarks and atoms. This is the real world of the dark figure. It is also our infinitely divisible quantum world. Who is waiting and watching? We all are.
Director of Kilmorack Gallery