Richard Warren

20thc British art and poetry (mainly), plus bits of my own – "Clearly I tap to you clearly along the plumbing of the world" (W S Graham)

Outsider modernism: Edwin G Lucas

Terrorism, 1946

Here’s the sort of art you don’t see every day. Wasting spare time that I don’t have, googling about in Scottish painting of the ‘forties, I came across Edwin G Lucas. He seems to have started out as a skilled but rather safe landscape painter. The website devoted to marketing what looks like a massive cache of unsold Lucases states that in the late ‘thirties he enjoyed “a brief flirtation with Surrealism”. To be frank, it looks more to me as if he stumbled across a couple of early tabs of lysergic acid diethylamide.

Here are two or three of the best. These travel backwards through the bad taste barrier so far and so fast that they emerge somewhere at the other side of the universe as spectacularly (and postmodernly) good. I am reminded of Austin Osman Spare’s assertion (in The Book of Pleasure, 1914) that:

“Were you to say a certain principle is bad as Art (or as composition, colour etc.) it would simply be the chance for originality, and you could make a wonderful Art by utilizing only the prohibited or bad principle.”

Greek Ruffian, 1946

Head of a Clown, 1947

Lucas seems to have noticed that the rules were there to be broken, and to have set about breaking them with an entirely original abandon, paying only superficial attention to the orthodoxies of the avant garde. To be fair, some of his “experimental” work does not come off, appearing inept, misjudged, uninformed. At the same time, there is at least a courageous honesty about it that sets it well apart from, say, the tedious, cynically calculated badness of Martin Kippenberger. Lucas seems to have pretty much given up painting by the early ‘fifties, by which point his work had reached a sort of random, squodgy psychological automatism not too far away from Pailthorpe and Mednikoff. A real outsider modernist who, if only on the odd occasion, hit the nail on the head and came up with some breathtakingly disjointed pieces that were way out of the box,  and way out of their time.

Walking the Dog, 1949

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2 responses to “Outsider modernism: Edwin G Lucas

  1. lucasalan October 15, 2013 at 10:06 pm

    Hi Richard,
    You may be interested that the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art has recently acquired 5 of my father’s paintings and they’re now on show in their New Acquisitions exhibition until 1st March 2014. Furthermore I think your blog played a part in this, because the curator mentioned it to me as having jogged his memory about paintings I’d shown him a couple of years before. Thanks for your help!
    Alan Lucas

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