Number Magazine April 1999
By Christina Huntington

LARRY EDWARDS
COOPER STREET GALLERY
MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE
APRIL 9 - MAY 8, 1999

Danger figures prominently in the work of Larry Edwards.

The word itself pops up in titles five times in this exhibition, complemented by “accident,” “fears,” “doubts,” “ghosts.” And indeed the world appears to be a perilous, or at least vexing place, populated with alligators, large- mandibled insects, and murderous garden tools. Edwards’s gouaches resemble illustrations, both in their fantastic subject matter and their graphic qualities—bright colors, repetitive forms and patterns, and sketchy brush- strokes that produce a cartoonish effect. In particular, Gardens Are Dangerous at Dusk looks like an episode lifted from a wicked children’s book, a story of blood-thirsty trowels. The scene is a backyard at sunset viewed through a wrought-iron fence. Against warm-hued clouds looms a tall brown house, its windows a fully-lit yellow like the recurring image in Magritte’s “Empire of Lights” series: a home silhouetted and lit for night, complete with street lamp, but under a noontime sky.

The artist owes a debt to Surrealism, not only for the borrowed imagery, but for his belief in the secret life of inanimate objects. Gardens Are Dangerous at Dusk seems to present a sneak attack of trowels upon the unwitting suburban gardener. One hangs from the fence; another impales a glove to the ground, the first drops of blood trickling from three gashes. Behind this violence, we see a figure’s frumpy lower half-dressed in baggy pants and brown oxfords-as he drives a pitchfork into the ground. However absurd this image, with its showdown between gardener and tools, it captures a dramatic tension. Dusky lighting, long shadows, and eerily lit house set the mood for a confrontation, and who can predict the outcome? It would depend on whether the narrative were a horror story or a comedy. Edwards’s best images combine both.

Edwards looks upon a natural world seething with strange and deadly wildlife; creatures emerge from the shade of tall grass to threaten humans or each other. Still, the images maintain a quirkiness that prevents them from becoming deadly serious. One of Edwards’s frequent tactics plays upon the conventions of the nature illustration; at moments he quotes them so literally that his paintings look like pages torn from a biology textbook. Danger At Turtle Pond exemplifies the strategy, with its inconsistent, flattened spaces. The lower majority of the image reads as a straightforward depiction of life at the bottom of a pond. You have your water plants, schools of fish, the underbelly of a turtle paddling upward; but what is seen at the top changes everything. For out of this top fringe of reeds and swamp grass emerges an alligator, mouth open, about to slip into the water. Its position is spatially impossible, given the viewpoint already established by the lower portion of the painting. For how can we gaze down upon the alligator if we were just looking up from the floor of the lake? The collage-like, superimposed upper section accentuates the contained flatness of the teeming lower area, as if it were a stage set, a hammy scene of faked threat. Spatially ambiguous blocks of aquatic life appear repeatedly. In Aquarium Floater, an apparent curtain of water (and the creatures suspended within it) hangs from poles in the main terminal of the deserted Memphis train station. In Dangerous Aquarium, animals float free of both water and the confines of their glass box, but remain trapped in an invisible plane. The repeated effect approaches the look of stock footage used in old horror films, a splicing of real and imaginary in a hybrid that feeds both hysteria and humor with its exaggerated cries of “danger, danger!”

Edwards’s fascination with flatness carries over to his paintings of Moroccan-inspired dreamscapes, in which patterned planes open onto others to form an infinite regress of chambers and gardens. As in the animal paintings, space is not about discrete elements that fit together logically; rather it is fluid, encompassing numerous views and scenes, like a confused dream. Edwards does not take idyllic joy in nature. Rather, humans encounter it on equal footing, or at a disadvantage, as in Boot and Broken Flower. The hapless owner of fancy hiking boots is defenseless against a swarm of insects that have descended upon his leg, as if in revenge for the flower he has just stomped. In the strange land of gardens infested with tiny but ferocious bears and grimacing irises, nature has at least a fighting chance against parking lots and chem-lawns.

BY CHRISTINA HUNTINGTON
HUNTINGTON IS ASSOCIATE EDITOR OF NUMBER:
AND ASSOCIATE EDITOR (INTERNET AND PUBLICATIONS) FOR TOWERY PUBLISHING.

Reprinted by permission.

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