Tuesday, June 03, 2014

John Uzzell Edwards

Going back to May 1974, the English Department of Swansea University published the first issue of a literary magazine called Prospect.  In that first issue, on the front cover and on a few pages inside there were illustrations of drawings and paintings generously contributed by John Uzzell Edwards. 

            I like to think that the most satisfying aspect of my membership of the editorial board of that magazine was pressing for the inclusion of ‘pictures’ as well as the written word and especially of being able to view and select work from John Uzzell Edwards’ home studio.  It was an utter delight to be allowed to trawl through a whole body of work and have John’s enthusiastic encouragement to take what I liked for inclusion.

            The work that I liked the most was a drawing of a stone gate in Merthyr and the reproduction was placed on page 7 of the magazine just after a new poem by Duncan Bush called Gothic Cathedral where, although the gate is no Cathedral, yet the power of the bamboo ink drawing does echo some of the sentiments in Duncan’s lines,

                                   The round-shouldered stone

                                   that held the arc
                                   bowed down by

                                   weight, unhooped and lifted
                                   to acuteness;

                                   growing tall, they earthed mass.
                                   The load

                                   passed into the ground
                                   like electricity

The whole poem is worth reading, as indeed are Duncan’s many other poems and novels that he has written since the 70s.

            I loved John’s drawing of Gate and after we had had it photographed and published I raised with John the idea that I might actually like to purchase it.  I was, you can tell, a student with pretentions!

            It took months for John to agree to take my money.  He told me that he had rather forgotten about the drawing until I unearthed it again and that he thought it was rather good.  But agree to sell it he eventually did and it now hangs on the staircase on the third floor and I see it every day.  

            It is a picture which divides people and they end up with very decided opinions about it.  Some, like me, regard it as a remarkable piece of work fluent, assured showing a sure line and being a striking image.  Some regard it with distaste telling me that they find it sinister.  True the ground through the gate and leading to buildings in the background is a mass of swirling lines which some have seen as resembling a weeping woman, but I tend to see it as satisfyingly calligraphic making the rounded rectangular empty distance have as much vitality as the drawing itself.  Remarkable and deeply satisfying.  I love it.

            The reason that I am writing about this masterly drawing is that I read in the Guardian today that John has died at the age of 79.

            The mild mannered, accommodating, understated and absurdly talented man is gone.  I remember him with affection and I think with sympathy of his wife and family.  

            He was a good man with a real gift and I am privileged to have a wonderful example of his art as part of his living memorial.


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