Jonmarc Edwards: The Language of Abstraction

And the external never remains outside. What’s at stake here is a decision about the frame, about what separates the internal from the external, with a border which is itself double in its trait, and joins together what it splits. At stake are all the interests caught up in the trial of this split.” –Jacques Derrida, The Truth in Painting

There is a Japanese concept called Ma which refers both to the value of negative space in constructing architecture, an image or object, as well as to the deliberate pauses in speech which emphasize aspects of the language. It can be roughly translated as interval, pause, or in-between, but is best described as an articulated sense of space, a quality of place. Jonmarc Edwards applies this concept not only to the composing of images, but to a range of semiotically charged shapes created by recognizing and privileging the in-betweens in both their design and their meanings. Edwards has been inspired by the power of these “negative spaces” as both a visual and a verbal matter — specifically by how Asian alphabets are comprised of composite pictographs instead of letters, such that a given word inherently depicts within itself an entire narrative.

Edwards’ early text-based paintings employed exacting hand-drawing, such as the monosyllabic labyrinth that resolves into “You Are the Figure in Landscape Viewing Still Life Pictures Abstractly.” He has also made sculptures based on rendering the Ma as a scheme or blueprint for a solid object. That was entertaining and engaging, especially when he gave the stacking treatment to the English alphabet and watched people try to read the words anyway. But he grew to miss the painterliness, color washes and evidence of the hand of the artist in the work, and after 20 years of rigid discipline he embraced his splashier impulses. Now a few years into making these paintings, he’s come to a new strategy for incorporation of deracinated physical elements of text and shape — reconceived as a means by which to achieve his painter’s goals for beckoning surface, rich texture, refractive space, and gestural impasto.

One of the most affecting examples of this high-octane painterliness is “It Had to Be You” , with its yellow under-aura, dramatically gravitational violet drips and rivulets, and the structural variety that blooms within its borders. When it comes to the I-Ching-like tossing of acrylic cut-aways into the mix of pigment, liquid, motion, and gravity… well there’s control and then there’s control. Working this way requires that there are no accidents; the artist sets up the experiment and accepts the results. It’s the difference between organic and naturalistic, between pure chance and the laws of chaos. Edwards used the physical word as a brush/palette knife instrument in the dynamic “Truth Painting,” and as it invokes Derrida, indeed deconstruction is a useful analytical framework for all this work. Derrida would relish unpacking Edwards’ relationship to language, asking what truth, or rather whose, and in what context? Is it a quest or a response or a challenge; an achievement or an illusion? And is there only one?

“The Celebrated Ruins” resembles a whitehot supernova in a sea of black space; an explosive spectacle of the macro-Ma. The laser-cut plexi pieces Edwards used here are called “fallout” because they literally are what falls out of the machinery as the main design is executed. These pieces hold onto the stories of their making as they create poetically broken surfaces by integrating into the pigment, echoing with what has been left behind. In “Zing” the contours of the plastic bits do the work of dense line-drawing, slicing up the pure luminosity of the yellow ground that gives the whole a feeling of x-ray vision, like a scan of an unopened tomb. The pulsing red color field of “Fox Force Five” is confrontational in its beauty, aggressive, and luscious in its use of pure color and tactile surface in creating depth. “Counter Space” portrays the alphabet within a joyful drenching of the color-wheel rainbow, and acts as kind of Rosetta Stone for the series, its letters left legible as a guide to the complications that would follow.

The sculptural edition “Simple Truth” also refers back to earlier sculptural iterations of the pictographic obsession, turning a word into an object as well as an element of composition. This aspect of physical space from the other, non-linguistic part of Ma finds expression in works like “Arctic Circle,” whose melting ice island is legible as a landscape and an allegory of entropy. Its pronounced spatial pockets act like tiny architectures so that the surface is both disrupted and configured in the same moment, radically altering the concept of “pictorial space.” The expansive, rhythmic, and cartographic “Atlas” relates the almost literal story of nature being overwhelmed by civilization’s layers laid over it. As though whipping up a map of the world, this whirlwind of sharp industrial squares and reserved geological palette combine to form both a picture and a metaphor of our times. The haunting, fragmented “Aloysius” is an homage to James Joyce (it’s his middle name), and there’s surely much about Joyce’s abstract, one might say sculptural relationship to the flow of language that can be gleaned for a more complete understanding of what Edwards is up to. Consider these lines from Ulysses: “I hear the ruin of all space, shattered glass and toppled masonry, and time one livid final flame… Where there is a reconciliation, there must have been first a sundering.”

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