Laurence Edwards

Working with clay, soil, bark, scrub and string, British sculptor Laurence Edwards creates bronze figures that visualise a visceral connection to the natural world. Each sculpture radiates a sense of vitality, as if a life force has been harnessed from the earth and forged itself into shape. Artist Profile chatted with Edwards while the artist was in Sydney for his exhibition at Mary Place Gallery, before heading to Melbourne.

Your sculptures portray poetic links between humanity and the landscape. Are there environmentalist concerns embedded in your hybrid forms? What does the natural world mean to you?

My work talks of a human relationship to the earth. This, however, is implicit and there is no real environmental or political agenda. Small works like Feel The Heat depict a figure with his hand flat on the floor; it’s as though he is taking a temperature and realising things are changing. This is as close as it gets to politics.

Larger works like Catcher, Carrier and Sylvan Man talk more of a connectedness, where the figure fuses with nature and it also speaks of ancient myth, alluding to times when relationships with nature were more direct. The Catcher fans out and traps organic material as if from an ebbing tide, a monitor or barometer perhaps of the condition of our environment. The Carrier carries sticks, maybe burnt; the remnants of a structure or material for to build a new one. Sylvan Man is impregnated with sticks and pinned together with wire and string; a survivor perhaps of a life, a journey, somewhere other, the outback or some such.

These are all just thoughts rather than explanations; in the end the viewer can interpret them as they wish.

You engage primarily with the male figure – is this autobiographical?

The figures are about how it feels to be someone like me. They are in a sense equivalents. I don’t work from a model. I often find myself feeling a wrist or a clavicle, looking at a calf or neck tendon in the mirror. Ultimately my figures are the sum of a set of independent observations adding up to surmise how it ‘feels’ to be me.

I’m not female, so could not conjecture on how it feels to be one. Therefore my works are, by definition, male and autobiographical, but speaking, I hope, for a community rather than an individual.

Why do you think the medium of bronze is so powerful?

I think of bronze as ‘art metal’; it’s history and relationship with art and culture is unique. From the ancient Mesopatamians, Egyptians and the Greeks, through to the Renaissance, bronze has hosted our highest thoughts and ideals. It’s reflected our lives and aspirations.

The amazing thing is that it hasn’t gone anywhere; all those lost sculptures have been melted down, reformed and recirculated. The object is lost but the metal isn’t and I love to fantasise that I may be using metal that was in Leonardo’s lost equestrian statue, lost Greek sculptures, Neolithic axe heads or coinage from the Indus. This fuels my work; I love working with history.

Add to this its malleability and fluidity; its ability to pick up detail as minute as a finger print and  to record gesture and seal fleeting moments forever in one hot flush, and you end up with a unique and heady mix from which to build a creative practice.

You run your own Foundry and, unlike many artists working in bronze, are intimately involved in the making process from start to finish. Can you elaborate on some of the experimental techniques and materials you employ?

I trained in the Italian lost wax method at the Royal College of Art, London, then moved on to work with traditional casters throughout India in the late 1980s, learning methods and insights that have sustained me to this day.

I have built many foundries and cast thousands of sculptures, and during that time have developed a relationship that is fluid and instinctual. To say I’ve developed new techniques would be to disrespect the thousands of years of history this metal contains. Having the sculpture from start to finish rather than handing it over to someone else to cast, however, allows me to think creatively throughout. I like using organic material like twigs and leaves and leaving imperfections, leakages and inclusions; they all add up to a language that speaks of being human and the earth.

What advice do you have for emerging sculptors wanting to work in bronze?

Learn the processes, but don’t be swamped by them and keep the sculpture going at all costs. The process can be all consuming and one must determine rules of engagement.

I started by casting for other sculptors in order to create an income and keep commercial pressures off my developing work; work that needed many years to evolve. I made rules like, ‘never put a kiln on without a piece of my own work in it.’ This sounds easy, but when you are casting someone else’s show and are against the clock, your work is the first to be sacrificed. That rule saved me. Many times I closed the door on a kiln at midnight relieved to have finished all the clients work only to realise that nothing of mine was in. To have to turn around and start working on you own work at that time of night was unpleasant to say the least, but the rules were not for breaking. Within fifteen years my work had developed sufficiently to support me, and after twenty years I was employing assistants, and now I have seven. I owe a lot to that simple rule.

Laurence Edwards | Evolution & Exploration
15 April – 6 May 2018
Mary Place Gallery, Sydney

13 May – 2 June 2018
409 Malvern Road, South Yarra

Laurence Edwards is represented by Messums Wiltshire, Salisbury, UK

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