Edmund Ian Grant
Edmund Ian Grant’s powerful images have an extraordinarily complex cultural background and, at the same time, a long and nuanced personal history behind them. He is now in his mid 60s, and it has taken him time to become what he now is: a powerfully original visual artist. At various times he has been a professional jazz musician, and an equally professional fully qualified dentist, who graduated from the prestigious USC School of Dentistry in 1980. In terms of the techniques he employs to create his images, he is also in part at least a product of the digital age – someone who is fully at home with the power of the computer to create images and modify them once created. This in spite of the fact that the adjective ‘digital’ is probably the last word one would think of reaching for when confronted with what is presented here.
The roots of these images can be found I think in two places. Earlier commentators on Grant’s work have noted the link to German Expressionist art. It is possible, for example to see quite a close parallel between these heads and portraits by Karl Schmidt-Rottluff. At the same time, however, there is more than a trace of the faceted planar modeling one finds in Picasso’s Cubist and post-Cubist studies of heads. Through the link to Cubisms, there is also a further link to the tribal African heads and masks that inspired some of the forms Picasso used in his seminal Demoiselles d’Avignon.
The paintings, therefore, despite their embrace of new technological means, belong to the canonical history of the Modern Movement, which now stretches back for more than a century.
The actual atmosphere of the paintings, as opposed to what one might describe as their style, is however purely American – they belong to the world of jazz – spontaneous, improvisational, ready to take creative risks, maybe at times a little melancholic. The titles given to some of the works - Americana, Hip Hop, Palookaville – spell out the artist’s cultural allegiances clearly enough. These monumental heads, cigarettes clutched between their lips, belong to the raffish, late night world of the traditional jazz club. This, as it happens, leads one back to Picasso by a different route, Picasso’s Demoiselles were nothing to do with gentility, as the ironic title might suggest. Nor were they anything to do with a former papal capital in Provence. They were the inhabitants of a low-class brothel in the Calle d’Avignon, located in turn-of-the-century Barcelona.
In the late 19th and early 20th century radical artists often presented low life subjects in quasi-monumental forms. Van Gogh and Toulouse-Lautrec were the pioneers who preceded Picasso in this paradoxical endeavor. It is fascinating to see how, pretty much a hundred years later, Grant finds a new twist to the theme, and makes his images speak to us in demotic American. They are things that do indeed belong to an important tradition, but are nevertheless solidly of their own time and place.
- Edward Lucie-Smith