Part of the Landscape: evolution & exploration

EXHIBITION:  409 Malvern Road, South Yarra, Melbourne 13 May – 2 June 2018
Gallery Opening Times: Tuesday to Saturday 11-am – 5pm


We are all made from the clay to which we return. This seemingly Biblical statement has its counterpoint in more recent theories that early life at a molecular level did indeed start in clay. It also serves to give a context to the sculptures of Laurence Edwards, which are grounded in the landscape. Working with clay, soil, bark, scrub and string, there is a visceral connection between the landscape and his figure that speaks of the vitality of life pulled up through roots from the ground and forging itself into shape.

The human tussle with the landscape is as pertinent to the Suffolk fields of England, home to Laurence Edwards and inspiration to artists from Constable to Arthur Boyd as it is the plains of Australia. However, it is during the process of casting his sculptures that the connection to the landscape is at its most literal. Laurence Edwards is one of the few sculptors in the world who casts their own work: it is a complex process often referred to as ‘cire perdue’ or ‘lost wax’ and is associated with the castings of the Renaissance masters. From these ancestral lines it was brought by Italian families to England and to the Royal College of Art where Laurence Edwards first learnt the craft. On a Henry Moore Travel scholarship to India, following the teachings of Sri Lankan sculptor Tissa Ranasinghe, Edwards began to explore some of the techniques that had thrived there for over thousands of years, which have their origin in the mighty city of Ur, in what is now modern day Iraq.

Laurence Edwards’ primary artistic interest is the (male) human form, anatomy and metamorphosis, especially regarding the change undergone by this shape during improvisational moulding and casting stages. To make his figures Laurence Edwards first works in clay amd these are then transferred into a wax version by way of a latex shell and it is at this point, when most sculptors depart, that he begins again. Wax, often recycled from previous works, wood, grass, leaves and branches are all used in the continued modelling process which is then encased in plaster before being burnt out with molten metal. It is a technique that creates a work of art and destroys one in the process. Laurence Edwards admits to enjoying his experimentation with the historical processes behind the technique.

Often placed in the extremities of landscape, Laurence Edwards’ sculptures are particularly at home in the ‘wild’, epitomising the historicised Australian interest between an anonymous, male figure and the great outdoors. With its expressive surface – dark brown with deep teal stains – and its melancholic, downward glance, Laurence Edwards’ monumental figure Hands on Hips (2017) standing at 180cm tall, indirectly references the work of the Australian Impressionists and the all too gritty reality of life in the bush. Though not necessarily inspired by the painting, Hands on Hips indeed shares a number of features with Frederick McCubbin’s Down on His Luck (1889). This image depicts a disheartened swagman, (a travelling labourer) sitting by a campfire, sadly brooding over his misfortune. The man rests in a forest of thin, linear trees contemporarily termed ‘widow-makers’ as they would often snap and kill men working or walking below. Surprisingly and according to an 1889 review, this downbeat, depressive picture ‘is thoroughly Australian in spirit’. Promising is it then that Edwards’ male forms are not the Romantic, awestruck wanderers of Caspar David Friedrich’s subliminal oeuvre but are, in fact, embittered and ominous, reflective of the tough life which McCubbin so candidly realises. 

In the introduction to the catalogue for this show, director Johnny Messum discusses Laurence Edwards’ fascination with entropy; the tendency for any closed system to lean towards disorder and chaos, as time increases. This closed system can vary in size from the vastness of the known universe to the relatively minute casting process. The element of disorder in Laurence Edwards’ method lives on in the sculptures’ post-foundry lives installed out in the open, where the oxidation, or rusting, of the alloy gives his sculptures their multi- coloured patina and sense of the numinous. Messum concludes that Laurence Edwards’ prioritising of change in the terms of a scientific analysis would be described ‘as a recognition of how our own vitality draws from the earth into which we return as carbon- based molecules’. The three main themes discussed thus far: the figure in the landscape, the process of making and being fabricated from cast natural materials, when read together not only emphasise the genre of landscape, but of creating with the purpose of a return into the soil of the earth. ‘Dust to dust, ashes to ashes’ again comes to mind.

Born in 1967 and based in Suffolk, Laurence Edwards trained at Canterbury College of Art and then the Royal College of Art. He has studios in Butley and Saxundham, Suffolk. Messums Wiltshire was set up in 2016 by Johnny Messum, a pioneering arts centre in the largest tithe barn in the United Kingdom. The landscape surrounding the barn is of outstanding natural beauty, providing an inspirational backdrop for visitors attending a programme of exhibitions, events, workshops and performances. 12, Mary Place is Sydney’s longest-running rental gallery, which forged a model that is becoming increasingly widespread in an era when art fairs and the Internet make maintaining a permanent exhibition space difficult for aspirational dealers. Laurence Edwards’ works were last exhibited in Australia in 2014 and in Sculpture by the Sea in 2015.