To leave an exhibition more impressed with the person behind the artworks than the artworks themselves might not be what an artist desires, but such is the effect of City Art Centre’s Edwin G. Lucas: An Individual Eye. Throughout his life, Lucas’ work was largely ignored by the Scottish and Edinburgh art world, and this exhibition gives us a biographical insight into how the artist navigated this rejection.
The works are showcased chronologically, and are accompanied by a fitting reflection from the artist. The influence of Dalí can be seen in Lucas’ work from the 40s, such as ‘A Farewell to Adolescence’; the watercolour rural landscape is juxtaposed with surrealist impressions, such as a large thumb pressing against a brick house and a floating female torso at the bottom of the painting. The presence of this anonymous sexualised torso is jarring to the viewer, as it toys with the grotesque, the result being slightly too unedifying. The exhibition tells us that the conservative Scottish art world, at the time, did not take kindly to these imaginative and radical paintings, yet artistic endeavour and exploration are clear to see in these challenging works, which should have been acknowledged at the time.
Most successful are the paintings that show clear purpose and direction of thought. ‘Caley Station’ depicts an ordinary scene at a train station. However, Lucas paints a red outline of himself over the subject of the artwork, elevating what could have been an unremarkable piece to one that contemplates the often unacknowledged relationship of subject and artist. As a pacifist, Lucas was a conscious objector to WWII, and these concerns are reflected in ‘The Human Situation’. Isolated grey plains, inhabited by microscopic people, hang in the air in contrast with a more classically styled night sky, suggesting worries about the state of humanity which remain poignant to this day.
Later works show a strengthened focus and introspection, such as the bittersweet ‘Reflection – Self Portrait (Evening)’ from 1986. The painting portrays Lucas to be sat in the middle of a bare room looking out over Edinburgh. To the left we see surrealist sketches and geometric shapes, which reflect the artist’s past. To the right is a solemn bust of Lucas, himself, with green and blue hues that seems to hang on the wall. Lucas was unable to see himself become the subject outside of his paintings. Yet we know that his efforts were not in vain as his son and family secured the posthumous recognition that Lucas was due. Art and biography together hint at the life of a thoughtful man, whose artistic and personal flair is only just beginning to be realised.
City Art Centre
Until 10 February 2019
Image: City Art Centre.