By Peter Frank

Paintings don’t talk, they speak. As such, they employ their own languages, contributing – certainly these days – to a Babel of visual possibilities. JonMarc Edwards has long investigated the liminal realm(s) where paintings (not to mention other visual devices) struggle to speak in given language(s), in already-available notational structures. At that, given the central role the alphabet – indeed, the process of alphabetization (and the inferred hybridizing between, for instance, Latin and Chinese scripts) – has played in Edwards’ work, his art has approached the condition(s) of concrete poetry. But, as such, does Edwards embrace language, or writing? Discourse or inscription?

Edwards favors inscription, but through writing he explores rather than exploits the lingual. In this, he shares with his fellow painters a troubled relationship with the written word, a passion at its deepest to reconcile the conceptual with the visual, the apparent with the indicated, left brain with right.  Indeed, Edwards ultimately diverges from the practice(s) of concrete poetry by addressing not the complexities of verbal meaning but the rudiments of meaning, examining what happens to verbal expression before it congeals into communication – and, arguably at the same time, vice versa, examining what happens to visual communication before it focuses into expression. Edwards’ work conveys not so much a message as a method. Even so, it has an urgency.

Edwards’ art has thus examined the heart of human intellect for decades. But his newest paintings take one large step away from and one equally large one into where he has been previously. They step back into the universe of the painterly – not just becoming textured and gestural and reasoned according to compositional considerations, but surrendering their very identities to the objecthood of the painted canvas or panel. At the same time, their basic unit – not their basic imagery, as before, but their basic formal ingredient – is the letter. Letters, not brushstrokes, comprise the gist of each painting; Edwards does not simply apply them to painted surfaces, he builds those surfaces around them. The letters are integral ingredients in – you might even say the triggers for – the physical warp as well as conceptual weft of each painting. This is no alphabet soup; however much the letters suspend in the puree, they contribute inextricably and vitally to each entirety, each self-contained universe. (No wonder so many of them look like nebulae.)

These works loom behind language. JonMarc Edwards’ Babel has become ever more glorious in its babble. There is something atavistic about these tumultuous galaxies of broken ciphers and inferred utterances, something that doesn’t just holler up from the gut but bespeaks the origin of language, the original impulse to connect mouth-sound with that-thing. As such, you wonder whether the dawn of the digital age has itself let loose such paleolithography or has made it necessary for an artist like Edwards to re-liberate it from its interment. These new paintings find Edwards no longer trekking verbal cities but lingual jungles – and wanting increasingly to return the entangled growth of language and image to a “cultured” context, to let our wild mind, conflating picture with talk, return to the core of human consciousness.

Los Angeles                                                                                                                   November 2013

Arctic noise 1

Arctic Noise, mixed media, canvas on panel 47 x 69 inches

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