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Introduction. Profile. The Mark Edwards Collection.

Mark Edwards.

History & Background.

The year of 1967 (when I was 16) proved to be a significant turning point in my life; not only did I start at Medway College of Art in Kent, but on the first day I met Sally who was later to become my future wife.

Up until that time I had got used to being acknowledged as the ‘arty one’ from my class mates as I travelled through the educational system of primary and secondary school; it was with a mixture of excitement and trepidation that I started my time at Art College. I was finally there!

For the next three or four years I totally immersed myself in work first at Medway and then Walthamstow. Eventually I had enough of student life and was desperate to start my life as a proper artist, so I left College before my degree.

Ah! The optimism of youth. Needless to say my parents were none too pleased in me dropping out of a graduate course - so I had to find a job!

Thankfully it was around this time I had bumped into my recently retired head of department at Medway who invited me to teach drawing at the local adult education centre, this I did for a number of years whilst I continued to paint and display my work in local galleries. By 1974 I realised that as my classes were becoming more numerous and were taking up more of my time than painting that I needed to make a decision about the sort of artist I wanted to be.

Therefore Sally (who was now working as a display artist at Peter Jones in Sloane Square) and I decided we needed an adventure and a move away from the humdrum routine that is so necessary to survive in a city.

So, much to our parents consternation at 23 years old we bought an old 1958 Ford Prefect and travelled to the very tip of the highlands just a few miles east of Cape Wrath, where on a previous visit we had managed to rent an old shepherds cottage (without electricity) miles from anywhere next to a salmon loch.

For 28 years we lived there (the first 10 without electricity) eking a living off my paintings and summer jobs that Sally and I took on.

After 6 years we had started a family and even though I was showing regularly at various Scottish galleries like the 369 Gallery in Edinburgh, I still had to continue my summer job as a gillie during the deer-stalking season (a pursuit I did for over 30 years) as it was still difficult financially to bring up a growing family.

So in 1979 just after the birth of the first of our three children I travelled to London to show my portfolio to David Larkin of Picador books. Always an avid reader I noticed that book covers were changing, becoming more arty, and Picador books were in a class of their own, so “hey!” I thought, “I could do that!”

Without an appointment I ‘blagged’ my way into seeing Mr Larkin and although he was none too pleased he agreed to see my portfolio.

After I had left, they commissioned me to produce the artwork for two book covers ‘Imaginary life’ by David Malouf and ‘Wild Nights’ by Emma Tennant. Little did I know that these two books would start my illustration career; considering we still didn’t have electricity or a phone we were amazingly lucky.

Eventually in 1984 we got electricity and a phone, and I went on to join the prestigious London Agency, Artist Partners.

Over the years I have illustrated literally hundreds of book covers for authors such as Kingsley Amis, Beryl Bainbridge, Sue Townsend, Philip Pullman (Sally Lockhart Quartet’ recently portrayed by Billie Piper in the BBC adaptation) But also picture books such as ‘The Sand Children’ by Joyce Dunbar and the ‘Narnia Chronology’ by CS Lewis ( published in May 08)

Also my varied illustration techniques have been analysed, alongside other leading international illustrators in ‘The New guide to Illustration’ (Phaidon Press 1990).

But throughout this time as a Fine Artist I have continued to exhibit my own work, having a one-man exhibition at the Latham Gallery, Roanoke, Virginia in 1996, alongside various shows in Scotland and England since. Recently I had a sell out exhibition of my ‘White Wood’ series at the Robin Tallantyre Gallery in Morpeth, Northumberland at the beginning of September 08.

In 2000, when the last of our children left home, Sally and I moved a few miles east from our shepherd’s cottage to our local village where I now have my new studio.

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Ideas & Inspirations.

This ‘White Wood’ series intrigues me as much as it appears to do for others.

Prior to this I had been exhibiting for a number of years at the Tallantyre Gallery with mixed success. My oil paintings were very traditional and the subject matter was deer stalking in the highlands, but although I was building up a reputation especially amongst the shooting fraternity, I was becoming increasingly disenchanted with its creative limitations.

So one day I showed Robin, the gallery owner some ideas I had been working on of this emerging white wood, but instead of placing a deer into the wood I put a couple of figures in instead. He was encouraging and so I began to delve deeper into who could be in this wood.

I came across a photo of a man in a magazine dressed in a hat and coat and decided I’d try him out in the wood. Instantly there was tension, what was he doing in the wood?

As this series of paintings develop, I am increasingly aware that certain characters or events (like the recent appearance of a steam train and the shadow of a man with a balloon, not to mention Derek) may eventually explain what this white wood and its male inhabitants are all about. I have to be honest though and admit that the more I delve into this strange alternative world the more absorbed and less certain I become.

Interestingly, whenever family or friends pop into the studio and see the work in progress they invariably project their own interpretation of the scene. Russian ‘John Le Carrier’ spies from the eastern block seem a regular theme.

But for me it’s far more surreal and intangible…occasionally humorous, sometimes disturbing.

These men in hats and coats dressed from a different era appear isolated, even when in groups…they inhabit a wood that seems not only to define them and protect them, but also occasionally threaten.

Whether they are really there or just ghosts of the past, and that the wood is not one wood but many, I’m still unsure.

It would be too grandiose to suggest the paintings are a metaphor for the isolation we all on occasions feel …….But the ‘White Wood’ appears to promote personal interpretation….and that I find immensely absorbing.

The bowler-hatted gentlemen may appear ambiguous but somehow I find that I can relate to them.

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From Palette to Picture.

I tend to work on 5/6 paintings at once.

First I have to prepare the canvas so it has a suitable texture; this is one of various techniques I have developed as an illustrator over the years, to create a predominately acrylic texture paste. Though it’s not an exact science so if you’re working on a number of canvases it’s surprising how varied they can be, which is good because the decision of what you paint next can be determined by this first step.

The earlier paintings were in oil, but as I use a palette knife and a great deal of paint to build up texture, it took forever to dry, especially white.

So I now use acrylic, which has changed the feel of the work, less painterly and more graphic, which I rather like.

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A day in the Life of...

I like routine. I regard painting as my job, if there are days when I feel flat, then I will force myself to work through it. I really don’t believe in inspiration, just hard work. Though if that fails then I get my camera out and head for the hills.

I arrive at my studio around 9am, if it’s winter I’ll pop down and turn the heater on before breakfast, so it’s nice and warm (yeah! I’m getting soft after all those years in a drafty shepherds cottage) I tend now to do around 8/10 hours a day, 6 days a week, if Sally lets me!

If I’m illustrating a book and there are deadlines then day runs into night - you do what you have to do.

I always listen to music; either jazz or classical. In fact music is incredibly important to me. I play clarinet and sax in a jazz band and over the last 15 years we have built up quite a local reputation, so over the year we do a lot of travelling to gigs and it’s a great way of getting out of the studio and spending time with good friends.

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