Writing Art History Since 2002

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João Ferreira Gallery Cape Town

The strength of a solo exhibition, many would argue, depends on omission. It’s an axiom Paul Edmunds stretches to breaking point with Phenomena, a collection of six meticulously cut, glued and coordinated shapes and surfaces in mixed media that make even this relatively small gallery space feel sparse. Here there’s room to breathe, and breathe we must, because light and air afford the elements of this exhibition a singular and cumulative presence and, in spite of their artificial materials, a beating heart.Edmunds is more interested in how natural phenomena must interact to create an image than he is in merely trying to recreate how our senses interpret them. His art is not about depiction, rather a “way of trying to understand the processes of what makes things appear the way they do”. And true to this ethos, these few intricately designed, often multi-levelled objects almost magically begin to develop their own life through their creator’s obsession with process.Sieve is a large-scale silkscreen and paper representation of a morning sky, its layers split into process colours, with slanting hexagons cut from each surface to produce a pixellated vision of nature – a digital dawn. Edmunds calls this work “very left-brain”, but the show’s overarching sensitivity suggests the entire organ was employed throughout, none more so than with Froth, a honeycomb of many-hued hexagonal acrylic, and Wrinkle, a polypropylene sheet that has twisted itself (thanks to a series of cube-shaped incisions) into a shape defined by its own energies.Intense and tessellating, these forms are simple in their own symmetry while suggesting the chaos found at fractal level. They appear the mark of a patient mind meeting a considerable work ethic, although Edmunds is quick to point out that his emphasis lies in development rather than donkeywork. By delaying production until the idiosyncrasies of the idea have crystallised has an apposite effect, Edmunds is in a sense mimicking the lopsided chronology of nature – centuries in the concept, seconds in the structure.Indeed, there is a survival of the fittest theme underpinning the works here. While this exhibition may seem the culmination of a trilogy (after 2003’s Cloud and 2001’s Houding, each exhibited in the same space), a more in-depth look, something all of Edmunds’ work demands, reveals not so much the completion of a series but, in the artist’sown words, an evolution.He regrets the inclusion of Peaks and Troughs, a small, dangling conglomeration of vermillion acrylic that sways gently, producing delicate shadows. For the uninitiated, it seems to fit at the very least into the overwhelming tenderness of his canon if not the specificity of the current form.A scaled-down version of a work on presently on display outside Cape Town’s ArabellaSheraton Grand Hotel (designed to keep out the ugliness and noise of an adjoining highway while avoiding being seen as an impenetrable barrier), its negative spaces and triangular dynamics evoke the relationship between light and water. In the larger, original work (done in painted plywood) this is a link to a nearby canal. But, says the artist, its characteristics, even its title, do not belong here (all other titles have a noun/verb ambiguity intended to express an inanimate/animate duality).That he is still demanding exclusion from such a refined collection reflects a fierce, Darwinian predilection for natural selection in his work. A process as organic the objects themselves, this exclusivity suggests the emergence of concomitant weightiness. For while his art delights with its respectful and at times playful rendering of image formation rather than representation, the vibrating vicissitudes of this show hint that Edmunds may now favour a heavier take on the subject matter, one defined even less by methodology and yet more by development. Phenomena possesses a warm, clear and beguiling power, declaring that “you ain’t seen nothing yet” from Edmunds, and even, perhaps, that “something wicked this way comes”.Elan Gamaker is an artist and filmmaker living in Cape Town

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