Born in Darwin in 1972, McLean Edwards studied at the Canberra School of Art and had his first solo exhibition in Sydney in 1995. Known for his theatrical, darkly humorous take on figurative painting and his bold use of colour, he has had over 20 solo shows and is collected widely by private institutions across Australia and is in many International and Australian private collections.A newspaper reviewer once commented that McLean Edwards’ strange psychological portraits ‘had the ability to expose an essential vulnerability of the human condition, and that his comic sense of social realism presented individuals as refugees of a bygone era floating anchorless in today’s ostensibly classless society.’ (SMH 10.2.1995)
An Australian arts reviewer stated his work has the ‘same sour humour as Samuel Beckett’s plays and prose, an absurd, theatrical sadness that celebrates idiosyncrasy while acknowledging the seeming impossibility of fighting the universe…His work is marked with a palpable sense of mortality and humility, a tragicomedy of figures and apparitions, thought-bubbles and asides, a diary of his anxieties and dreams.’ (Art Collector Australia, Issue 57 2011)
Painting in oil on canvas, Edwards’s works are fluid and change sometimes dramatically as those thoughts and ideas correspondingly reform. He also scribes his age in the artwork, often in the corner of the canvas as a countdown to his mortality and signature of his work. Edwards paints in an intriguing manner, his brush strokes are confident and loose and yet by contrast are reinforced with delicate lines and considered details. He skilfully makes this technique look easy, however this approach is achieved through his many years of painting full time.
Edwards’ practice to date has concentrated on the human figure - especially the history of portraiture. There are allusions to European art history as ‘old master paintings’ are subverted and the sitters are made to look impotent and ridiculous as characters set in a dark comedy on stage. Their features are often exaggerated; bulbous noses with swollen ears are paired with comic sullen expressions juxtaposed with a carnivalesque colour palette and/or heightened through a dark background.
Edwards’ influences are wide ranging as he reads and watches media constantly. Edwards’ does not hide his influences through art history and viewers associate Ingres to modern greats Picasso and Bacon to contemporary painter Condo with his work. Australian artists such as Sidney Nolan, Donald Friend, and William Dobell also can be traced as influences. As such direct comparisons can be made with historical iconic paintings often providing a uniquely European and ultimately ambiguous, yet compelling quality to the work of the Australian artist.