Your work seems to have become more complex and intricate in the last six months, featuring more reptiles and insects. Is there a reason for that?
There are a lot of snakes, it’s true, and I’m not entirely sure why. I suppose I have seen them in Sottobosco paintings, but I think it’s possible that subconsciously they hark back to the stories I saw in books at the religious schools I went to as a child; there were always images of snakes winding down trees.
It’s just such an archetypal thing that we all relate to in a way.
The trees in your pictures often seem to have been cut down?
Composition-wise I like the way cut in half tree’s look, I find tree stumps a satisfying shape to paint because it’s fun to japan things that have a very three-dimensional feel to them and it was in a narrative sense very much related to the themes in my work throughout my practice. There’s also something odd about finding a tree stump in the forest and seeing how nature interacts with something that has been unnaturally altered by humans, like how sometimes they use the surface as a little table or burrow into the middle and make hollow tree stump homes.
How come the new works feature so much of what is going on beneath the ground; is it some commentary on the soil which sustains us all?
I have been reading about underground fungi and how it connects everything; mushroom spores, dandelion clocks, pollination – are all part of systems I never realised were there before.
I remember looking at biology textbooks when I was young and thinking how little we know about what happens under the ground. There is something spooky to me – almost a horror element. The centipedes in our garden are so odd – so alien-looking. They move so strangely and don’t look natural.
There seem to be a number of surprising conjunctions in the new works; a snake feeding a spring of lavender to some baby birds for instance or putting its nose into a bluebell?
I like putting things in places where they shouldn’t be. In the painting of the mushroom ring for instance, I didn’t want the mushrooms to make sense so I made each one of a different variety. I wanted it to be a mutated version of a mushroom ring.
I have been reading Japanese manga series like Nausicaa, Valley of the Wind in which, after the destruction of the world, nature destroys man. I have also been reading the Annihilation series by Jeff VanderMeer in which nature mutates and I can’t help thinking, of how human destructive activity impacts different species of animals, plants and the environment in general, events like global warming are a clear example and it makes you wonder if even things like the pandemic could be related to our reckless treatment of nature.
What are the glowing balls hanging off the cobwebs in so many of your scenes?
Raindrops: on webs they look like pearl necklaces.
Having perfected the use of black lacquer and gold – there seem to be greater use of colour in these latest pictures?
I have in the past struggled with using colours, though I love colourful compositions and I have tried at times to create more colourful works in different mediums, I just found that for me, It didn’t click. One colour pop is okay; like a red coral snake or sea anemone to emphasise the silver and gold. Tulips are one of my favourite flowers but not for their colour; I like their shape and their leaves which are always so cartoonish and curly.
Why the rock pools?
I have always been obsessed by rockpools. I grew up near Jesmond dene in Newcastle and as a child I used to visit Tynemouth beach and St Mary’s lighthouse, I would spend so much time staring into rockpools near the lighthouse, they look like little portholes to another world which I guess they kind of are. The rockpool I have painted is an extracted rockpool, the way you would see them illustrated in science text books at school with all of the different layers.
You have made your biggest work for this exhibition; made of nine panels it measures more than two metres high and has at its centre a painting of a heron in a pond; a still point is an almost wild scene. Can you explain what you were thinking as you made it?
I wanted to express the co-dependency of elements in the natural world and all of these latest works – but particularly this one – are a bit more chaotic and busier than they were with things spreading everywhere.
In 2018 Edwards was awarded a commission by Doncaster Council to create a sculpture that celebrates the lives of those who had worked in the pits around Doncaster. Before this commission, there was nothing in Doncaster to show that it was a mining community or had any mining history. Joan Hart who was one of those who sat for their portrait stated that miners were “a unique breed of men” and that it was important to have something to remember the miners by. For Laurence, the commission seemed right as miners are the literal embodiment of men of the earth, a theme that Laurence explores in his sculptures. He also felt that it would be a great test for a southerner to engage with a “northern community” and great a sculpture that would engage with the community that is in many ways still in trauma.
The sculpture consists of 40 portraits of former miners, whom Edwards sculpted in wax while they told their stories. These sessions were filmed by Doncaster College to form part of an online archive.
“The conversation always started with introductions and basic biographical facts, the dialogue flowed naturally after that, with silences being embraced, the spaces allowed me time to look properly.”
In February 2021, A Rich Seam was installed in Doncaster City centre. The bronze faces sit in hand made crevices of two 20 tonne pieces of York Stone from Huddersfield, with a central miner figure between them. Seam refers to Barnsley Bed which Doncaster sits on and from which coal was mined. Coal has been mined in Yorkshire since potentially the Roman times, but exponentially increased from the 18th century due to the invention of the steam engine in 1712. During the industrial period and due to the building of the Liverpool to Leeds canal the amount of coal being mined in Yorkshire increased exponentially as it could be transported easily to other areas of Britain. However, with the increase in competition from foreign companies and the increased privatisation mines began closing, stripping many towns of their identity and purpose.
Laurence went up to the region around Doncaster and spoke to miners and their families about mining and how its loss had affected their community. What stood out to him was the passion and commonalities between the testimonies.
“All spoke of camaraderie, of the danger, of death and of community and the real sense of loss which is impossible to grasp. One miner said to me imagine the government closing ‘Art’ down, stopping you doing it ever again, then imagine a city full of artists.”
He moulded each portrait out of yellow wax with his hands, as the individuals spoke. Laurence would see three individuals a day and each sitting would last two hours. Each finished bronze portrait sits in a niche cut into Yorkshire stone, which Laurence calls “faces in the rock”. For Laurence Edwards, this was a “jump into the unknown” because the initial sittings were timed a filmed all while he was interviewing the subjects. The central figure is Listening Miner which is meant to be evocative of how the men would hear the geology settle at the end of the shift as the machines were turned off.
If you would like to watch the filmed portrait sittings please click here.
The sculpture now stands outside the Frenchgate Centre to show how literally mining is to Doncaster. Councillor Nigel Ball wanted to “locate the iconic piece of art right in the heart of Doncaster – a celebration of our mining history and the huge spirit of our miners and their communities.”
Homecoming has been commissioned for a new housing development that resides near the remains Norman campsite. The figure took inspiration from the scenes in the Bayeux tapestry and the Normans’ arrival in England. Edwards was fascinated by the influence the Normans’ had on Britain not only in terms of architecture but also language. Without the Norman invasion, words such as allowance and beef would not be in the English vocabulary.
Homecoming continues the themes of walking men and migration seen in Edwards recent works. The figure would not only have had migrated to England but also through England as the Normans’ continued their conquest. The figure is an exploration into the life of a professional soldier with little autonomy over their path in life; he may be walking but he hasn’t chosen where he walks. We witness the soldier at the moment of his return home which is perhaps appropriate for a sculpture situated within the commuter belt, echoing those returning home each evening.
There is a duality to the figures face; one side appears hopeful and the other fearful. It manifests the anguish of coming home having been away, unsure of what has changed and what has stayed the same. Although dressed in the regalia of a soldier with a shield and helmet, this is not a glorified return, he appears a battered and well-used man. In fact, his tunic is made from an old overall of Edwards’. There is a sense of anxiety in how the ropes are twisted around his shoulder which implicitly rather than explicitly reflects his mental state.
Laurence Edwards read Paul Kingsnorths ‘The Wake’ trilogy as a part of the research for Homecoming. Set in 1067 in the Fens and written in what the author calls ‘Shadow tongue ‘ a simplified old English which serves to evoke perfectly the life of ‘Buccmaster of Holland’, whose family and life have been destroyed in the savage merciless invasion. The story follows his efforts to raise a partisan gang in the forests, plotting and picking off Norman soldiers as they impose impossible hardship on those Britons left alive.
Homecoming spent some time at Messums Wiltshire, where Laurence introduced us to his latest sculpture. If you would like to watch this talk, please click here. The sculpture has now been installed at its new home in Ebbsfleet, to be enjoyed by the residents of the new housing development sited there.
An essay and interview by Colin Smith, Associate Editor of Turps Banana Painting Magazine.
A friend who works with Sculpture and Installation said to me recently “The problem with Painting is that it has too much history”. My instantaneous reply was “That’s one of the very things that I most like about it.” I’m fairly confident John Walker’s answer would have been similar.
My first encounter with him as a student at the Royal College of Art in the late 1970s was not necessarily an easy one. His work was extraordinarily prominent and highly thought of at that time and there was barely a student who was not making pastiches of his work. I was one of the few who was not but when he saw what I was trying to do he was characteristically perceptive, helpful and sympathetic. Later he was instrumental in helping me get a Harkness Fellowship to Yale, and we still meet up from time to time.
It has always struck me as profoundly unjust that over the decades since he moved away from the UK, sometime around the mid-1980s, his work once so prominent should have vanished from sight along with him, and that a large number of younger artists were completely unaware of his practice. His work now seems as relevant as ever and about ten years ago, with the backing of Turps Banana Painting Magazine, I flew off to Boston to interview him and to try and set that situation right.
John’s reputation in the USA, where he has been living for some time now, is securely established and unquestioned. His involvement with the dilemmas of illusion and surface have always been paramount. Film critics often reference the emotional agency of depicted space in movies, seldom referenced in that way by commentators on the plastic arts. Space, or the illusion of it, has always been prominent in John’s practice and to my mind is much more relevant than the introduction of ‘namable’ subject matter or even text. The Door is perhaps a more fitting metaphor for John’s paintings than The Window, and the subject matter or text could be seen only as a possible key, nothing more, nothing less. Complexity or contradiction has never really been problematic for the poetic imagination. As the art world seems to be devolving into part of the entertainment industry, these works vastly repay any effort demanded to understand them, their context and background. This new and exciting exhibition of John’s work is long overdue.
Here follows an updated version of my interview with John, which despite some years having passed still offers many insights.
CS: One clear trait of you practice is a determination to apply the paint in varied and unexpected ways.
JW: I’ve always been interested in what you may call talking with the brush - that’s something inherent in great painting. The way the artist kind of talks himself through a space or a distinctive form. It was one of the things that worried me about a lot of my friends’ paintings, Minimalists if you like, this throwing-out of the language of the brush. It was there in the paintings I admired, that distinctive touch which you see in a Chardin for example and which makes you gasp when you see the beauty of it.
CS: Could it be said that your attention was moving away from just the act of painting, towards referencing things outside of that?
JW: Well, that’s true to an extent. I’d come to feel with the ‘collage paintings’ that they were solid enough to feel – if you hit one for example, you’d break your hand. But I suppose what I’d reverted to was that it was no longer just about force because I’d always believed the same of say a Vermeer painting that if it fell on you it could kill you because it’s so finitely structured. There’s a dialogue going on all the time and even though I thought the collage paintings were going well what was missing in the paintings was ‘going back to air’ – how do you paint air? I was beginning to feel I’m not doing the things I care about. I was looking at Rembrandt’s portraits for example – how do you paint the space around a form?
CS: Would it be fair to say that in the past you were interested in the ‘whole painting’ as an image, whereas now you are becoming more interested in an image ‘within’ the work?
JW: To an extent it was: “how can I find a form which I can place with air around it?”
CS: I seem to remember reading years ago that you’d quoted Picasso saying that he wanted his paintings to stop just this side of abstraction and that you wanted your paintings to stop just this side of figuration.
JW: One of the most inspiring things I ever read was by Malevich, who, when asked what his ambition was, said to imbue a square with feeling. Somehow that square had to act figuratively – not abstractly, even though it was an abstract form. It’s the same with Rothko – you’re not just seeing a rectangle, those forms somehow act figuratively on you. Someone who doesn’t do it so well is Barnett Newman. If he hadn’t called those paintings Stations Of The Cross they would just be black and white paintings.
CS: Some of the dialogues, which have unfolded in your work over the years have an affinity with Guston – the reintroduction of ‘nameable’ imagery for example. He seemed to have had a road to Damascus conversion, whereas your developments seem to have evolved more slowly.
JW: It’s very much a narrative thing – there’s a lot of narration in Guston. Even though I met him several times it’s quite hard to talk about him. The language or the ‘touch’ of paint is always the most important, and some times the subject matter is just a kind of filler.
CS: Would you agree that the forms in your work are usually defined by the edges of shapes rather than by the brush marks modeling them? The marks seem more to animate the shapes rather than model them?
JW: I spend a lot of time trying to work out where things meet – where form meets space. I spend a lot of time trying to activate that area. That’s where drawing is. I love looking at Albers – the precision of where the colours meet creates drawing.
CS: Let’s talk about the way you have represented space in your paintings. Very often the forms or planes lie parallel to the picture surface.
JW: Everyone seems to have his or her own definition of what the picture plane is. I suppose I wanted to place the forms in front of the picture plane. I am thinking of one particular Cezanne self-portrait, where he established the picture plane very early on in an area just behind the ear, then, later on, everything else has a discussion with that part. There is a kind of building in and out of the picture plane. The painting in the Phillips Collection in Washington seems to exist in the space between you and the surface. The painting is about four feet away but Cezanne is only about two and a half feet away.
CS: I suppose what I mean is, in say the Alba paintings, the forms and the areas around them are upright as opposed to your paintings, which have a recessive sloping surface. From my own experience I know it is easier to get the marks to lie down and fuse with the forms when they are parallel.
JW: Well, that’s the problem with landscape painting – you find that things move away from you pretty quickly. The thing is you are always making a painting. There’s a physical difference between what is a ‘view’ and a ‘painting’. Most of those paintings were actually started outside in the landscape, then when I had something there I brought them in and had a dialogue with the work, then took them out again and to see if they ‘fitted’, to see if they were then actually part of the landscape. They don’t have to look like it.
CS: Are they based on a specific area?
JW: Very much so. I’ve been going up to this area, where I have a studio in Maine, over many years, and it really happened about the time I had a breakdown and I didn’t really know where I was going. I found this cove where all the shit came in out of the ocean. When the tide went there was all this mud and it fitted into a group of paintings where mud was the central theme – homage pictures to my father who fought in the First World War. It took a long time but I suppose what I wanted was for people to be able to say I knew more about this spot than anyone else in the world. Cezanne knew more about Mont Sainte-Victoire than anyone else, and I‘ve got my little piece of mud! It changes all the time, every time the tide rolls in or out.
CS: It coincided with a difficult period in your life?
JW: Yes, there was a period of about eighteen months when I just could not work. The landscape refreshed me and helped me to come back.
CS: Tell me about the introduction of text into the paintings.
JW: It came at first from a drawing my daughter had made of a birthday card which included the text For You, and then I made a big painting, which I still think well of, with those words on it. Then it grew a little bit and there’s a whole series of paintings somewhere of birthday cards.
CS: That relates to you not wanting to exclude anything from paintings.
JW: Yes, I just don’t want those rules.
CS: I’ve found a quote from way back that says, more or less, you don’t like maximum impact paintings, but prefer ones that reveal themselves more slowly. What was the context for that?
JW: That’s a really early statement, from when I was a very young man. There was a time when, for a while, I found my art being exhibited alongside Warhol and Lichtenstein – all that wham-bam stuff. I felt my work was really not about the same thing at all, which in some sense forced me into a kind of retreat.
CS: What about Drawing and printmaking – you’ve done a lot of both. How do they fit in with the painting?
JW: Usually when I draw its to check the painting out. I don’t want to just rely on my eye and an immediate response - I want to try to visualise more, to internalise. To see how accurate the painting is. Did I really achieve the placing of forms I intended? I see the drawing as a confirmation, mostly after the painting. I found myself going out with watercolours into the landscape. I don’t need a camera. I want to feel I can paint anything. To me that’s one of the definitions of what a good artist is. Everything is available.
Colin Smith in conversation with John Walker, revisited and edited March 2019
The journey of The Carrier began when a ship spilt planks of wood off the coast of Suffolk. During the process of picking up the planks from the beach, Laurence Edwards began to reflect on this repetitive motion of picking up and carrying, which developed into a motif that is seen in many of his works.
The sticks that The Carrier holds have both a literal and metaphorical weight. They have an emotional physicality representative of a loaded psyche, while also appearing almost too heavy to hold. The Carrier is at the tipping point, with his cheek tenderly resting on the wood acting trying to prevent the wood having a fulcrum, his mouth is wide as if puffing with the effort to do so. The work is very evocative of the Pieta, the idea that this figure is carrying like the Madonna a dead weight that is unable to support itself.
There is much we can discern from The Carrier however the figure cannot quite be placed. He is at the tipping point, but what the tipping point is we cannot tell. Perhaps his wood will be used to build a hut and therefore he may be at the tipping point before man’s first primitive hut. The primitive hut is an architectural theory theorized by Antoine Laugier and is an allegory for man and its need for shelter in nature. Maybe The Carrier is at the tipping point before Man becomes civilized through the building of this first primitive hut. On the other hand, The Carrier could be a metaphor for the ecological tipping point that the world is now at. With the chaos of cut wood at his feet maybe we are seeing the consequences of our actions on the earth; The Carrier could be continuing this destruction or trying to rectify it.
The Carrier is stitched into the horizon line, our eye carried through the figure via the sticks he holds. The bundle itself has a history, its tired-looking rope implying it is not its first use as he strides forward to an unknown destination. Laurence Edwards has presented us with a work that demands our interaction and makes us ask questions that cannot be fully answered.
Hi there.. welcome back.. the keen eyed, the mad and the enthusiastic amongst you, will have noticed my absence on the interweb. I Decided not to bore you with my ‘fantastic’ Lockdown exploits and concentrate on having them..
You won’t see them in this post either..no, instead you will be exposed to what was happening just as it all started and where we’ve got to since we opened up again at beginning of June…. the actual stuff I made during lockdown will be saved for you in the next post!!! Its very exciting I can tell you.
So we’ll start with the Biggestthing! The Colossus is coming together in bronze, after a myriad of structural difficulties, complicated welding exams and new cranes installations, we’ve finally got to the fun bit..Well Tom has..
Here he is …
Welding the feet together..
Here’s Tom showing new ‘Expert guy’ Eddy Triplow the ropes!
Eddy is getting the hang of it.. He’s a real nice guy ‘Nice guy Eddy’
Tom’s passed loads of difficult welding exams to do this bit.. he can now make an oil rig in the north sea… This is the start of the stainless steel framework going inside the feet and legs.
Solid as a rock….
You may be a fresh visitor to my blog. This is what the Yox-Man (Colossus) is going to look like.. you can see how far we’ve got to go!! Hope to be finished in the new year.
I thought i’d show you the destruction of this plaster beast, it actually influenced my covid work… the stuff i’m not showing you!
The other ED, (second of three featured tonight) hacked off the plaster outer skin to reveal the polystyrene core..stuff we hadn’t seen for two years.
Everything at this scale is an engineering problem!!
Back from the other side of the planet, a successful exhibition was had at 12 Mary’s Place Paddington Sydney, A historic gallery in Sydney recently re-opened by the ‘Defiance Gallery’ we virtually sold out with orders for editions..The show is now open in Melbourne at a brand new space .
Got a chance to travel. We got to Orange over the Blue Mountains where we were hosted by amazing Wine and food growers and met up with my sculptor friend Harrie Fascher at her wonderful studio in Oberon…
Get an idea of her work, studio and life, and the great person artist….she is…by watching this film…
she’s just won a $50,000 prize …
Lots of Horses at her studio…one was shot outside my bedroom window one bright morning.. it was old. I have to say I’m disappointed to find my photography only recorded the grimmest of things… Here’s the aftermath after I’d had breakfast and brushed my teeth…
Then we went to the ‘Bush’ to meet Stirling Dixon (Farmer and ecologist) at Taralga , part of the Tarlo National Park.. where foxes are not wanted..
Brought over by us Brits .. they wreak havoc with the indigenous mammal and bird population, small marsupials and ground nesting birds suffer terribly.. Stirling and friends attempt to keep them under control.. a fine welcome…
Here he is leading the way on a small expedition.. well across a stream….
Eucalyptus where he pointed out striations on the bark where flying squirrels sucked sap at night.
stunning interior built by himself sensous earth floor.
From left Harrie, Stirling, Anne and Jan.. who told me tales of travelling, looking for rock art in the Kimberley’s (far north Aboriginal territory).. where a wasp nest covering a rock painting had been removed and carbon dated.. and was found to be 20,000 yrs old….painting could have been 40,000..
Trees six months after a forest fire..Stirling got a new bush trained dog, that went missing on its first night.. so well-trained was it that in the morning 80 wild goats were herded at the front of the house (these and wild pigs are the scourge of the bush apparently) Stirling was able to sell them on to the local restaurants.. a lovely dish, one we delighted in that night.. good dog!
Apparently poor thing was gorged by a miffed Billy the next day…that was the end of him…
The wonderful shower..water warmed by a fire .
One of the many termite mounds reminding me of my ‘Sylvan man”
Hello… I have a new show opening at ‘Messums’ London next tuesday the 16th, and rather excitingly we cant have a party, so we’re having a zoom chat instead. Johnny Messum and I will walk around the show and discuss it… Hope you can make it, if not I’m sure it will be available to watch on the Messum’s Wiltshire website..
The work represents a new departure for me, made during the first lockdown. Plaster figures sliced up and reconstructed, who became my audience, companions even confidents!! through those lonely months.. Its a special show for me here’s the link to the free event.
And here for you delictation is a brief preview of the work, The plasters are being shown alongside the bronzes, on the same stands used in the studio, will be interesting to compare and contrast, especially now the plasters are repaired and glued together after fragmenting in the mouldmaking adding another layer to the experience.
They’re all around 60cms high…
Looking forward to seeing you there, tell all your friends!!!
In 2018 Edwards was awarded a commission by Doncaster Council to create a sculpture that celebrates the lives of those who had worked in the pits around Doncaster.
The sculpture consists of 40 portraits of former miners, whom Edwards sculpted in wax while they told their stories. These sessions were filmed by Doncaster College to form part of an online archive. In February 2021, A Rich Seam was installed in Doncaster City centre. The bronze faces sit in hand-made crevices of two 20 tonne pieces of York Stone from Huddersfield, with a central miner figure between them. 
Robert Macfarlane expressed that ‘In this unique project, Laurence Edwards has created a new kind of stone book: an extraordinary double-archive – told in bronze and told the story – of a generation and a community that is now close to disappearing.
Tadaaa….Finally after 4 years, here is Doncaster’s “A Rich Seam.” A tribute to Doncaster’s Mining community.’
Forty tonnes of York Stone arrived from Huddersfield, at the crack of dawn on Valentines day…but the crane didn’t!
So we unloaded the miner and placed him in the centre of the rather splendid Plinth.. and waited anxiously!
Like the seventh cavalry our lovely 100 tonne crane arrived at midday! Only 5 hours behind shedule. The first one had broken down, the second was too small.. so a ‘Mate’ with a crane in Leeds was asked to ‘do us a favour’… leaving an understandably irrate wife on a rather special morning!!
Our miner waited nervously as he was put into place the next day…
Reggie and George made sure the rocks sat safely, concreting, rather splendidly, between the cracks and crevices…
I did a great job at masking my confusion ‘Did I leave a box at home’??
Danny Heaton the man who took these photo’s was even co opted whilst I changed drill bits.
I’m not known for my perfectionism..
It all looks fantastic, better than I could of imagined.! In the quarry the rock looked aggresive and brutal.. but in the street it’s golden hues simmered and bounced off the buildings. It’s presence seemed to lend a sense of humanity to the street..
Whilst we were there the varieties of Yorkshire light showed themselves.
This was the sun at 3 o’clock!
The street is now being relaid with beautiful York stone slabs, lighting and seating. We are creating the information points which will guide the visitor to the forty films made to accompany each head, showing the modelling sessions and the testimony’s of each miner featured, a valuable archive set down for the future.. A big thankyou to camera shy Tom whose planning and forsight made it all happen on the day!!
The street opens at the beginning of April, so you’ll be able to visit then. We hope for a grand opening with brass bands and banners sometime this summer when the restrictions have hopefully lifted… watch this space, and thankyou for coming….