TEXT FROM PROGRESS! PROGRESS? WRITTEN BY ALHENA KATSOF, COMMISSIONED BY WASHINGTON GARCIA GALLERYAs the eagle was killed by the arrow winged with his own feather, so the hand of the world is wounded by its own skill. - Helen Keller
In contradiction to their time, Charles Darwin and Jean-Baptiste Lamarck both developed theories about the evolution of life on earth. For Lamarck, evolution happens according to a predetermined plan and moves in a linear progression. Darwin, on the other hand believed that organisms of the same species are all different and that the circumstances for survival are constantly changing. For Darwin, the evolutionary process is chaotic and rambling more like a galaxy then a marching band.
The concept of progress as we now know it is rooted in the age of Enlightenment’s linear, accumulative effort towards greatness – defined interchangeably in terms of technological, sociological and economic betterment. I am intrinsically more sympathetic to Darwin’s non-ordered version of evolution. Having been born within a postmodern dialectic it is impossible for me to truly inhabit the psychological space required to believe in Modernism’s progressive efforts. In terms of art today, progress represents rigorous flexibility, a self-conscious commitment to relationship as opposed to the attempt towards distillation into pure form.
The space that surrounds us is the shape that allows us to pass between. - Daniel Higgs
It is impossible to approach Grier Edmundon’s work without thinking about painting both in terms of its recent history and in regards to Modernism’s pursuits. We can’t help but note the influence of artists like Gerhard Richter and Luc Tuymans – who have both worked with the appropriation of historically poignant images and have time and again alternated back and forth between the language of abstraction and of representation.
The use of visual iconography in Edmunson’s work is put forward to us as a question. The images that we are presented with are in a state of suspension – sourced from the subtext of historical narrative they teeter between familiarity and obscurity. I know that I know these pictures but I do not know why. Through careful choices and subtle application of paint the images seem to want to disappear even as they challenge our assumptions about what they mean and where they come from. This evasive permanence feels emblematically American and I am left with a lingering sense of the indefinable. There is a ghost-like prominence of marksmanship, which will not allow me to turn my back on that which I cannot define and which prevents the work from falling into a sentimental abyss.
No one is free, even the birds are chained to the sky. -Bob Dylan
Edmundson’s practice is undeniably aware of painting’s unfolding geography and yet it is amended and expanded by the presence of sculptural gesture, drawings and printmaking. These methods are used to explore the role and characterization of image and abstraction. Edmundson is not just working with the image itself but rather with the thoughtful juxtaposition of images – both realistically rendered and obsessively scratched in patterned repetition – to build alternative relationships within history’s over-arching tale. His oeuvre is equally unsettling and seductive, lush and sparse.
I am often suspicious of the idea of progress, even though many great social advances have been made in its name. And it appears that Edmundson is as well. Yet there is a generosity within the embedded criticality of Edmundon’s work. While his images exploit the colour and compositional schematics of different eras of visual representation they suggest a healthy cynicism towards nostalgia. His references are astute and Edmundson both acknowledges and sets aside their meaning in a visual world where symbols and substance become eloquently convoluted.