Thursday, 28th July – Saturday, 13th August
When entering Nicholas Projects for McLean Edward’s latest exhibition ‘Knock Knock’, you are first struck by the arrangement of the paintings. Identical in dimension and media, the morose portraits are displayed at head height, leading you to feel under scrutiny in the centre of a crowded room. The intensity of this sensation is lessened however, when you notice the vacant expressions of the subjects. There is a common thread of forlorn eyes and down turned mouths, evoking in the viewer a pain similar to that of observing animals in a zoo. The caricatured features of the portraits heighten this voyeuristic atmosphere; like freaks in a circus show, Edwards reminds his audience that these faces are for entertainment value.
In his customary style, Edwards’ lurid tones highlight bulbous noses and swollen ears. Although his subjects’ characteristics are comic, their sullen expressions bring a tragic undertone to his carnivalesque colour palette. The artist’s style is intriguing as his brush strokes appear loose but are reinforced with delicate lines and considered detail. As a result of his brash markmaking, many presume that Edwards paints under the influence of alcohol; a reading that pieces such as ‘Knock Knock #7’ encourage. The painting depicts a bottle of alcohol with ‘FORGET’ written across the label, recalling the concept of the ‘tortured artist’ whose greatness is conflated with substance abuse. The increased font size of ‘FORG’ furthers the association between the painter and forgery- a prevalent undercurrent in the exhibition. Just as the angular features and discordant colours of ‘Knock Knock #13’ are reminiscent of Picasso, the warped brushstrokes and smoky hues of ‘Knock Knock #14’ mirror the work of Bacon. Edwards’ makes no effort to hide these influences. Direct comparisons can be made with some iconic paintings but they do not cheapen the images, instead they provide a uniquely European quality to the work of the Australian artist.
‘Knock Knock’ succeeds in the playful atmosphere that Edwards brings to a seemingly grotesque set of paintings. His bloated, gloomy portraits do not flaunt outstanding technical skill, but the presentation of the pieces invites you to assess your position as an observer. You survey the room and see a series of figures in identical frames, like looking through twenty open windows in an apartment block. The people are exposed; some of the faces are familiar and some even stare back at you. It is this sensation that resonates from ‘Knock Knock’ as Edwards effectively calls you to question who is the subject and who is the viewer in the scenario.
Written by Helena Geilinger.