English artist Laurence Edwards confronts questions of masculinity with his at times unsettling bronze forms. An exhibition of work comes to Australia at the Orange Regional Art Gallery.
April 20th, 2023
There is something of the sublime in the questioning sculptures of English artist Laurence Edwards. Larger than life, looming, ponderous, engaged and engaging, the work has a deeply primordial presence that unnerves the viewer. Are these figures friend or foe? Are they vanquished or victorious? Moreover, are they championing male masculinity or speaking to the schism between different conceptions of masculinity between the artist’s father’s era and today. Where has all that ego gone — is the male figure a redundancy?
These are just some of the questions Edwards ponders as he leads a walking talk through the Orange Regional Gallery, NSW, where his exhibition A Gathering of Uncertainties has drawn crowds from across Australia. In conversation with Fiona Gruber the next day, he expounded further on the plight of the archetypal male as an archaeological relic he hopes his sculptures will embody when dug up in the future.
To some extent, Edwards pre-empts the historic with nomenclature borrowed from archaeology such as Yoxman, the title of an eight-meter sculpture sat in the middle of the Suffolk landscape. A Thousand Tides, 2016, plays a similar game with a two-and-a-half metre figure, which Edwards has lain on its back in the mud of the river that passes his old studio. Hidden and revealed as the tide comes in and out, the piece will eventually sink below the mud, presumably to be discovered by later civilisations.
The main work of the exhibition is the Walking Man Series, 2018-2022. Here, five men of massive stature are caught mid-stride and seemingly mid-response to some unseen disturbance. Edwards recounts watching a heard of deer respond to his presence as the impetus for the arrangement of poses. Yet, there is something darker to the way the figures respond, which presents as both benign and laden. This in turn takes us back to Edwards’ comments on the displaced male. Are these men dangerous or defeated, or even, is there anything more dangerous than a defeated man?
Related: Fantastic Forms at Bundanon
Using the lost wax method, Edwards builds each sculpture around an internal structure from a pile of continuously reused clay. As he builds the figure, supports such as sticks and blocks of wood are shoved into the clay to become part of the final work, however.
“Each night when I leave the studio, I don’t know what I will come back to. Sometimes the clay just slides off,” he says, recalling a recent work that his security monitor caught on film. “There was the slightest tremor and the whole thing came crashing down. It was an horrific video.”
As Edwards works towards stabilising the figure, ropes and anything that comes to hand are incorporated into the work: “Yoxman  has everything from the studio floor that wasn’t in use.” Man of Stones, 2019 and in the current exhibition, has shells and shelves of fungus growing from its back, while the whole is bedecked with stones twined with string and loaded across the back and neck of the 2.4-metre man. In doing so, the idea of burden, or more precisely unnecessary encumbrance, is metaphorically loaded and delivered with gravitas.
The resulting works are staggering. The exhibition, meanwhile, includes two movie presentations. One on the making of Yoxman, and another on the creation and installation of A Thousand Tides.
Orange Regional Gallery
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