In a sense language itself is JonMarc Edwards’ creative medium — but he is still a visual artist, and his studio materials are as tangible and physical as a painting, installation or sculpture would be. It’s more correct to say that for Edwards, language is his subject, and its qualities are the formal armature on which he hangs his conceptual meditations. Both Western and Eastern alphabets, numerals and pictographs are the shapes and content operating in his work, along with strident lines and saturated palettes. His text and semiotic signifiers exist as abstract elements in his compositions and arrangements, as a way of mark-making that contains its own iota of meaning while also launching vibrant, complex and even poetic works of art. His new show of works made during pandemic lockdown both deepen their personal psychological narratives and enact the kind of conscious recombining of what was close to hand which reflect that experience of shared isolation.
L.A. WEEKLY: When did you first know you were an artist?
JONMARC EDWARDS: When I was in kindergarten, my finger painting, BOY, was selected for a group show of Orange County grade-schoolers. The exhibition took place at the newly built Hunt Library (designed by William Pereira) in Fullerton, CA. Something clicked when I walked into the entrance hall with my parents and saw the easels, the track lighting, and my work placed at the center of the space under the high ceilings. From that moment on all I wanted to do was fill blank surfaces with my art; which at five meant coloring bedroom walls, scribbling sidewalk chalk cartoons, and drawing magic marker skin tattoos. I still have that same impulse, just different media and venues.
What is your short answer to people who ask what your work is about?
My work is about making the Language of art a visceral and tactile experience. I see Language as a sixth element (or 119th if you are talking atomic structure) and something to be taken seriously like Democracy or Climate Change. It is complex in nature but as natural for most of us as reading a tweet.
My older work explored the composition and energy released by codes or composed Characters. These concerns (not CONCERNS) migrated into the texture of words and texts to the point of concrete prose paintings and an immersive letter-form dispensary (Debriti). As my work explores the pleasure of visual touch and the meaning of creative acts, I am always curious about ways my work reveals my unspoken self and connects to the viewer’s unconscious.
My work can be seen as Energetic Meditations. I am always pleased and feel I have accomplished meaningful work when people come up to me at a show and say how excited a particular piece makes them feel, how they want to paint or create something when they return home. When it is “on,” my work becomes a catalyst for the viewer to either ask more questions about intent or stare and get lost in the creative meditation.
What would you be doing if you weren’t an artist?
Hmmm, probably a thermoplastic road-marking operator. I admire the precise work in a large-scale format. Generating miles of lines or stenciling arrows, zebra stripes and elongated, raised monosyllabic words on asphalt or concrete; Stop, Bump, No Turns, etc. this would suit my sensibilities very well especially on a desert highway in the winter.
Did you go to art school? Why/Why not?
I went to art school at the Minneapolis College of Art & Design. I was interested in filmmaking, making films in an art historical context. I gradually switched to painting, retaining many cinematic qualities in my work; time, image, light vs. dark… MCAD had a vibrant visiting artist program; Joan Jonas, James Hayward, Mike Kelly, Tony Oursler, Vito Acconci, Suzanne Lacy, to name a few. It was heady times with many of the MCAD students putting alternative and experimental theories into action. Students felt like they could use any media available to them to pursue their ideas. The boundaries of various mediums simply broke down for many of us, and we began to do performance painting and sculptural films. Personally, I’ve continued to push the limits of my art-making with immersive installations, occupational performances and a traveling text dispensary.
Why do you live and work in L.A., and not elsewhere?
I was born into a nomadic family of retail hustlers and small-town shopkeepers and landed in Orange County when I was three and then subsequently yanked from Southern California in the second grade, moving all over the Midwest for the next seven years. After high school, I traveled around the U.S., eventually hitchhiking the Pacific Northwest. I entered art school back in Minneapolis as I mentioned. Later, after a stint in NYC, I met up with some artist friends in Los Angeles. I enjoyed the flow of the artists’ sensibility, outdoor studios, nature in the urban environment, and a plethora of freelance opportunities. Ultimately, it was a trip to Baja that sealed the deal, returning to Los Angeles, it felt like home.
When was your first show?
My first commercial exhibition was 1989 at the Center for Contemporary Art in Chicago. I moved to L.A. soon thereafter and had my first show in Los Angeles at Newspace in 1994. This was also my first show of MERGE paintings or text compressions. Visually, these were patterns of information/content that had a resemblance to Asian Characters. Viewers were presented with a decision to passively look at the surface of the paintings or actively engage thereby revealing the spirit of the show. The success of that body of work has subsequently stimulated many beguiling tangents and discoveries.
When is/was your current/most recent/next show or project?
Thank you for asking… Integrating Matter at Matter Studio Gallery (Opening December 19, 4-7pm; Artist Conversation January 9th 2-4pm; Closing January 16th 4-7pm. Karla Funderburk is a really inventive and talented curator. It is going to be touchy-feely for the eyes but with some patented JMe brain musings.
What artist living or dead would you most like to show or work with?
Concrete artist Augusto de Campos, his knowledge and elegance is humbling. My friend, and musician, Thollem McDonas, is someone I did a short live-action piece with but would enjoy collaborating with again on a larger scale. Evident, visionary, and intense writer/artists like Laurie Anderson, Suzan-Lori Parks inspire me visually. I’ve also had the honor to work with the visual artist and sculptor, Ewerdt Hilgemann several times and would love to do it again. Teka Lark, poet and children’s author is also someone who I follow from afar and would enjoy collaborating with on a project.
Do you listen to music while you work? If so, what?
When I am working in the studio I like to listen to the existing sounds of Silver Lake Blvd. A stimulating cacophony of street noises; speeding cars, semi trucks, alarms, emergency vehicles, skateboarders, chirpy birds, barking dogs, light chatter. This keeps me creatively in-tune and aware of my environment while focused on the job at hand. Every day is a new arrangement of frequency and arbitrary sounds.
But on occasion, I will listen to classical music, Haydn, Schumann, and Schoenberg are my favorites, or break out some vinyl from my idiosyncratic collection of 60’s to contemporary rarities.
Website and social media handles, please!