“. . . [a] duality of uncertainty and force imbuing his work.”
Rising from the primordial soup, the figures of English sculptor Laurence Edwards loom large. Imposing, masculine and loaded with an emotional fission that leaves their state undefined, Edwards’ figures are indeed a gathering of uncertainties.
The central piece for the Orange Regional Gallery exhibition, A Gathering of Uncertainties, is the Walking Men Series, 2018–22, which presents a group of five men caught in a moment of trudging through the landscape (which remains affixed to their feet). In the gallery setting, the 2.4-metre figures are isolated and without reference, however, the narrative frame remains.
As Edwards explains, he had been in the forest to work with clay in-situ to better understand the nature of tree bark and how he might interpret that surface. Engrossed in his concentrated efforts, he became still and silent. When he finally looked up a herd of deer had gathered directly behind him. All but one suddenly raised their head to face his direction. Transcribing that moment to the stance and expression of the men’s faces, there is a schism in meaning, are they affected by what has alerted their attention, are they beyond caring and simply reacting? For Edwards, the answer is both; there is no resolve, these men are departing or arriving, defeated or physically worn from victory, powerful or thwarted, there is no answer. Indeed, Edwards equates their position with that of the archetype of the contemporary male of his era, hovering in that strange space between potent and displaced.
Shifting from maquette to final dimensions, each piece is clumped together from Edwards’ three-tonne stack of red clay that is used over and over for the creation of each piece, the clay has a life of its own with the detritus of the studio joining the mass. Life, too, joins the clay with plants and fungus and the occasional toad joining the stinking pile. For Edwards, there is great joy in the physical effort in making a man, the pull and push of clay as shoulders are formed, but also the dynamics of weight versus void and the strategies for keeping figures upright. “I look to the voids when shifting scale, the space between torso and arm, the angle at the neck,” says Edwards. Splints, great lumps of wood, ropes and string come into play as he engineers each figure to hold the upright position.
Bedecked with stones and the chaos of nature each figure becomes an archaeological extension of England’s Green Man, being both of and in the forest or marshlands. Using the lost wax method of casting in bronze, the sectioned works are then reassembled and reworked to give even more surface detail. Patinaed specifically to carry the natural world into the sculpture, the bronze is treated with different acids, including vinegar, to leave a surface that shifts between warm caramel, black and an assortment of greys. For the eight-metre Yoxman, Edwards has used patinas to mimic the geological layers of the exposed nearby cliffs with the pale greys of chalk, fossilised wood, and ash, contrasting with the orange and red tones of London clay.
Taking this idea of his figure’s place in England’s landscape a step further, Edwards has populated the no man’s land of the swamps surrounding his studio with figures. This is the land that only exists at low tide and cannot be owned. On leaving his studio in Butley, Edwards placed a 2.4-metre supine figure, A Thousand Tides, 2016, quite a distance from shore so that it appears and vanishes with the tide and has been the bane of local police who receive calls of a body.
Maquettes of much of this work are included in the exhibition, but it is the large figures of Man of Stones, 2019, Chthonic Head, 2018, Heft, 2022, A Gathering of Uncertainties, 2022 and the Walking Man Series, that most profoundly resonate the duality of uncertainty and force imbuing his work.
Gillian Serisier has been writing about art and architecture for the past twenty years, she is currently Editor At Large for Indesign and Habitus. She lives and works on Wiradjuri land.
Orange Regional Gallery
4 February to 16 April 2023
New South Wales