Thursday, 25 August 2011

Portrait of the Artist

By Jan Patience 
Published in The Herald Arts supplement, 13/12/08
Bee Dwellings by Annette Edgar 61x71 cm oil/linen 2011

AS IS the case with the best paintings, artists rarely know where the work is heading before it reaches the end point. It’s a bit like a conversation, or a friendship. Real life is seldom tidy. We are all seeking something perhaps without knowing what it is and, in-between times, stuff happens.

When Annette Edgar talks about her paintings, which blaze with colour, energy and depth, she brings up the conversational metaphor several times. “You never have a conversation on just the one level,” she says. “There is always something underlying. We may be saying amusing and witty things, yet underneath this is perhaps a underlying sadness.”

Although Edgar peppers our own conversation with references to her three young grandchildren, you sense that her own inner child is still trying to make sense of the complexities of the world through her vigorous abstract work or poetically charged, tightly structured landscapes. Her first memories of putting pen to paper and discovering the magic of creation, came many Christmases ago, when she was just four years old.

“My mother died when I was just four,” she explains. “My father had died when I was a baby, so I was left with my older siblings; all young adults. Whenever I asked for my mother, they said she had gone to heaven. That first Christmas after she died, I was given a lot of presents, probably as a way of trying to compensate. 

“One of the presents was a set of coloured pencils and crayons and I remember being just fascinated by making marks and patterns. I saw patterns everywhere; from the way droplets of rain would form on hedges to the grass rustling in the breeze. I used to draw pictures of going up to heaven, past the fluffy white clouds like sheep to see my mother.”

The little girl grew into a woman fascinated by the power of what she calls ‘mark making’. Her inherently poetic nature harnessed the power of a formal art school training to take that onto levels and places she is still investigating with vigour several decades on. 

Edgar worked in shops and offices and had two children before the muse that was always pushing her on, led her to take a higher in art in her late twenties. She was accepted for Glasgow School of Art, graduating in 1980. There, she benefited hugely from the febrile atmosphere she found there, working with tutors such as Barbara Rae, James Robertson and Sandy Moffat. 

Since 1990, Edgar has painted full-time and there are distinct periods in her artistic life that echo her concerns of the time. Around 15 years ago, she became caught up about environmental issues and so the figure began to appear in a garden or lush landscape. When her friend, the writer and art critic Q. Gordon Smith died in 1997, she embarked on a series of ‘mourning paintings’.

Since then, the figure has been less prominent in her paintings, but recently, following a trip to the colour-spattered island of Mauritius earlier this year, there has been another slight shift in direction, with figures reappearing set against what she describes as the ‘music in the land’. Initially, her Mauritius work was an immediate joyful response to the vibrancy of the culture and the landscape she found there, but recently there has been a pulling back into more abstract paintings.

Edgar is a true painter in that she uses the medium fluidly and unashamedly. “Conceptual art has its place,” she says, “but painting does it for me. When I’m painting, I’m painting to work out how I feel. The ideas develop as I paint. My paintings are about life and celebrating life.”

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