Richard Warren

"Clearly I tap to you clearly along the plumbing of the world" (W S Graham)

Tag Archives: Edwin G Lucas

Living paint: Edwin Lucas’s ‘Resurrection’

To mark this best of all possible days, here is a bit of a cracker (click to enlarge) by the always interesting, and sometimes startling, Edwin G Lucas (1911-1990), the subject of an earlier post on this blog. (A biography and whole galleries of his work can be found here.)

The Resurrection, dated to 1940, is lifted from the Art UK site, where it’s credited to NHS Lothian, the owners, perhaps surprisingly, of nearly 500 paintings. So I guess you might stumble unexpectedly across this abstract expressionist parody of the baroque somewhere along the meandering corridors of an Edinburgh hospital, or at least let’s hope so.

I’m left wondering how Lucas achieved the consistently gorgeous, squidgy, almost munchable plasticity of his rapid brush marks. And how did he get those edges and tonalities into each sweep of paint? Presumably he left the bare strokes to dry off a bit before painstakingly tweaking in the details that transform some of them into teeny tiny people with little beards and haircuts, the multitudes of the redeemed. It’s a feat of technical virtuosity, and a witty celebration of the sheer incarnational lushness of paint, the brush marks coming to life – in more senses than one – before our eyes. And at the heart of it all, the luminous, cross-shaped body of Christ pings from the tomb. Alleluia!

As a rule I disapprove of God as a sky-god, but I rather like the big cartoony egghead Father at the top here.

If the 1940 dating is secure on this, it’s hard to think of anything else comparable. It would be more than a decade before Howard Hodgkin (to whom I’ve compared Lucas in a different respect) would start cramming his spaces with plasticky splatches. In fact, it doesn’t even resemble anything else by Lucas that I recall seeing. Maybe it’s a quite wonderful one-off?

Hell is harrowed. Happy Easter!

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Hodgkin before the splodges

So it’s goodbye to Sir Howard Hodgkin. Though some of his later work has seemed a bit repetitious, declining in conviction, the painfully gorgeous colours and ridiculously juicy splatches of his best and more fruitful years certainly make up for that.

But how about these three? (Click for slides/enlargements.) Back in the late forties Camberwell student Hodgkin bounced Mughal painting off the Euston Road realism of his tutors to come up with this sort of spiny, expressionist satire. I noticed the miniature Tea Party in America at the Hodgkin Tate retro of 2006, parked quietly and apologetically round the corner at the margins of the real show, but found in the end that I liked its monstrous housewives best of all. It’s beautifully intense, disturbed, claustrophobic. Memoirs, I take it, shows a psychoanalyst at work, but not one I’d feel comfortable opening up to.


There’s something here akin to the contemporary oddball jerkiness of Edwin G Lucas, though without the feverish confusion. I appreciate that the famous dots and rich colours are already detectable in these early pieces, but they can be enjoyed in their own right, not just as juvenile harbingers. As the observed elements in his paintings steadily morphed into mush through the ‘fifties, H H lost this early twitch, this spikiness. In the move into contemplation, he sacrificed a bit of edge, you might say.

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