Gareth Edwards at Millennium, St Ives
Gareth Edwards: Emotional Weather (oil on canvas, 91 x 204cm)
Gareth Edwards‘ solo show Ars Poetica: The Sea, The Sea is named in homage to Iris Murdoch and her character Charles Arrowby, who rediscovered a vital and inspiring connection to landscape on moving away from the urban maelstrom to the rural periphery. Edwards clearly sees parallels with his own move from London to Lamorna, a wooded valley which runs down to the sea, roughly 10 years ago. Much of this latest body of work addresses the experience of being in the sea, the loss of power and necessary submission that entails. The paintings powerfully convey a sense of being overwhelmed, of the ego diminishing as it is encompassed by sea and sky. Edwards also addresses the sense of dislocation when traversing the littoral boundary between sea and land, which poignantly relates to the profound feeling of displacement we often experience when moving between urban and rural spaces.
Several of these engaging canvases literally glitter as sunlight on the sea; elsewhere they tingle with metaphysical energy. In places small inscriptions faintly register, elsewhere bold dots, like sunspots or eclipses, hint at other meanings. Colours for the most part are subdued, evoking a mysterious, shrouded landscape which exists just beyond physical reach. Cracked paint uncovers colours of natural decay – bright pinks and greens reveal themselves beneath the layers as Edwards manipulates paint with control and confidence. Gallery owner Joseph Clarke notes how Edwards achieves both a sense of intuitive mark-making as well as a record of each aesthetic decision made manifest by the human hand.
Edwards is an ambitious artist, who paints with an acute awareness of his place in the contemporary art world, seeing his own work as a progression within the St Ives tradition.
“As far as the London artworld is concerned, flowers, landscapes or seascapes aren’t the ‘proper’ subject of modern art. There is a feeling that for painting to have relevance it has to be avowedly urban, to reflect that pumping heart of modern life. Yet there is a genuine case for European painting to link back to its landscape heritage.”
Cornwall is still a bastion of landscape painting and it is refreshing to meet an artist who has embraced this – not as provincial, archaic subject matter, but as a rich and pertinent vein of contemporary enquiry.
“I feel I am done with abstraction. A phrase that was coined a few years ago – ‘the contemporary sublime’ – represents what I am searching for and it is through a figurative engagement with the landscape that I feel this comes about.”
A 36-page collectors catalogue featuring all the work in the exhibition is available from Millennium Gallery.
Galleries Sept 2008
Inside Cornwall June 2007
“Though working in Lamorna, that most painted of all Penwith’s coastal valleys for two years now, Gareth Edwards’ light-imbued paintings might seem to be yet another, distinguished, take on this landscape tradition. A closer look reveals other concerns. Their unmistakable references to Modernist abstract painters, whose sheer sensual communicativeness of paint Edwards shares, reflect his profound belief in the idealistic humanity of their power.” (Nicholas Usherwood, Galleries June 2007)
Geometry of Life 2004
National Maritime Museum September 2004
Islington News 2002
Family Falmouth 2001
Cornwall Today 2000
Cornishman November 2000
“Those who blame postmodernism for the death of painting identify the word as the murder weapon. “Post-modernism has been characterised as the invasion of the visual arts by discursive language”, wrote Simon Morley in Junes ‘Contemporary Visual Arts’, and there’s no denying that, increasingly, the verbal is muscling in on the visual act.
This is not necessarily always a bad thing. Occasionally words and images work together to produce a result bigger than both of them, as happens in the work of Gareth Edwards now showing in Coast at the Hart Gallery, Islington. Edwards came from the verbal perspective lecturing in new art theory, but the birth of his daughter in 1996 completely overturned his ideas. The change in his work was dramatic: from labouring over realistic acrylics inspired by advertising and photography, he threw himself into painting abstract oils inspired by poetry and Cornwall.
Although the work incorporates scraps of poems, the words are only the starting points for paintings that are richly, overwhelmingly visual: ‘I will take a snatch of poem and run with it, but it is also a matter of going down to the sea myself and working with the ocean and granite’. From close quarters, the worked painted surface speaks of first-hand contact with an experienced place, but at a distance it miraculously dissolves into abstract infinity to get lost in.
Before this happens, however, the viewer is pulled back with ruled lines and geometric diagrams which anchor the paintings in a measured world. ‘I like the fugitive spaces’, explains Edwards, ‘but the masculine side in me wants to pin them down with the architecture’. More than that he will not give away; ‘If people want to romance, to dream, the work is a starting point for that reverie’. Far be it for the poet or the artist to get between the viewer and his dream. Like the space, the interpretation is left open. Edwards starts the painting but the viewer finishes it.” (Laura Gascoigne, Galleries September 1999)