The obvious question to ask when looking at a Mark Edwards work is: what’s going on in this painting? But after a few minutes, you realise the question you should be asking is: what the heck is going on outside it?
Of course, you’ll never really find out. Mark’s work is built on riddles buried inside enigmas. It’s wilfully opaque. And all the more wonderful for that. The new collection is full of examples. Take Three Men, Three Trees And a Train. At first glance, there appears to be just two men and no discernible locomotive in this beguiling painting. Then you realise there is a third man, out of the frame and casting a shadow. There’s a train too – but only in the form of an elusive puff of smoke.
Another one? How about Still Waiting for the Door to Open. Again, what door? There is no door. A house, yes. But no door. Just those two men: those familiar Edwards men standing in the snow in the hope that something might happen. In fact, the strange doorless house appears multiple times in the new collection. It’s also in Looking for the Shadow, for example, where two men search for an inexplicably lost silhouette.
It’s tempting to see the door-free residence as a metaphor for Mark’s painting style as a whole. They are familiar and reassuring. But, hang on, there’s no obvious way in!
Mark’s growing legion of collectors wouldn’t have it any other way. They don’t want answers. They want snow, hats, coats, trees, smoke and balloons. They want crows that don’t actually appear inside the frame.
In short, they want the White Wood.
This is where Mark has been living (at least in the world of his paintings) since 2007. The ‘discovery’ of the wood was a turning point. By this time, Mark had been a professional artist for nearly 30 years, with varying degrees of success. In 1974 he had re-located with his young family to a remote cottage in the Scottish Highlands. He continued to paint, but also worked on the neighbouring Duke of Westminster estate. By the 1980s, he had a flourishing career as a book jacket illustrator.
His ‘white wood’ moment came when he happened across a 1950s photo in a magazine of a man dressed in bowler hat and overcoat. He was flooded with creative ideas, and almost immediately changed the focus of his work. "My oil paintings were very traditional,” he remembers. “Although I was building up a reputation amongst the shooting fraternity, I was becoming increasingly disenchanted artistically with its creative limitations."
Ten years later, the white wood is still whispering its secrets to Mark. And he’s passing them on to us in his fabulous paintings. This is his fourth exhibition at the Catto. You should check it out. We have a door.