Just as every new work by Simon Edwards reveals new wonders of landscape, so too every new exhibition reveals further evidence of his considerable artistic skill and expertise. The bold, confident hand of the artist clearly shines through in the aptly titled The Great Unknown.
The work continues on from last year’s Ivory Towers exhibition. As with the 2016 images, the colours have been stripped back to reveal a stark land; the ivory and sepia tints lend the scenery the depth and studied grandeur of Ansel Adams photographs, while still displaying the hand of a fine painter. Edwards’ chosen medium, oil over the metallic sheen of aluminium, imbues the images with an inner glow; the waterfall of Ivory Retreat and the ice of Glacial Slide glitter in the imagined alpine light, and the strongly marked rock crags stand in sharp relief against the silken smoothness of tarn waters and soft misty skies.
The works sit well within the history of New Zealand landscape art. The compelling power and mysterious dark of New Zealand’s mountains has attracted artists ever since William Hodges accompanied Cook on his second voyage to the islands, and the lure echoes down from Van der Velden to McCahon, the Burton brothers to Barrar. With The Great Unknown, Edwards explores this history with works that are simultaneously real and imaginary. Actual locations are combined with a recollection and nostalgia which comes from the artist himself. The combination of the emotional pull of the mountains and the wistful rendition of them by Edwards creates a powerful experience for the viewer.
An interesting feature of The Great Unknown is the pairing of completed oils with collage studies, created from areas of painted and inked paper overlaid to represent the stark mountainsides. The comparison of these works with their larger oil brethren presents a fascinating opportunity to view the artist’s compositional techniques in action, whilst simultaneously presenting a series of small yet fine works which stand as worthy art by themselves.