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Born in Darwin in 1972, McLean Edwards studied at the Canberra School of Art and had his first solo exhibition in Sydney in 1995. From this exhibition of portraits, a 1994 study for The Cricketer was purchased and, the following year, another portrait, Silly Boy, 1996, was added to the collection. In 1997, Edwards spent a year in Jakarta and it was during this period that Defection was painted. It was exhibited in Sydney as part of the artist's New Paintings series, in July 1998. In 2001, he had a work selected for the annual Sulman Prize exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Recent exhibitions I wanted to be Normal for You 2000, Year of the Rat 2002 and Down and Dirty for the Lord 2003 continue to extend the artist's humorous take on figurative painting.
About the works
A newspaper reviewer once commented that McLean Edwards' strange caricature-like portraits had the ability to expose 'an essential vulnerability of the human condition', that his comic sense of social realism presented individuals as if 'refugees of a bygone era... floating anchorless in today's ostensibly classless society.' (SMH, 10.2.1995)
Edwards' practice to date has concentrated on the human figure – especially the history of portraiture. Stylistically, they reveal the influence of artists such as William Dobell – the solemn, elongated faces of Edwards' subjects are an obvious reference to Dobell's controversial 1944 Archibald portrait of Joshua Smith. The series Silly Boy Paintings of 1996 encapsulates this reference.
There are allusions to European art history as well: in 1998, nudes 'Olympia style' referenced French artists such as Ingres; social realist traditions are exploited and given an absurdist slant, and 'old master paintings' – like those sombre, frill-necked subjects common to Dutch and Flemish traditions of the seventeenth century – are subverted, the sitters made to look impotent and ridiculous. One such black-dressed dowager now sports a shocking-pink face and large rabbit-like ears. She sits beside a forlorn-looking cricketer, serious but awkward... and extremely out-of-place in this nondescript landscape, a generic backdrop of green hills and a pale sky. The painting Defection, 1997, is typical of McLean Edwards' offbeat, idiosyncratic approach.
Works in the Allens collection
oil on canvas, 101.5 x 76cm
Silly Boy 1996
oil on canvas, 122 x 92cm
oil on canvas, 137 x 135cm