A glimpse into the inspirational life of painter John D Edwards
John D Edwards is a truly inspirational artist. From his early life as an assistant to artists and galleries through to professional artist and author, John D Edwards has inspired others to face life’s challenges with humour and optimism through his remarkable painting.
Read more about his remarkable journey here and follow the link below to visit the exhibitionVisit Exhibition
John D Edwards has been painting and drawing for as long as he can remember. The characters, objects and creatures that populate his world have supported him through challenging times. “The cowboys, trains, birds, boats and cats, bunches of flowers, mothers and children all first appeared in a sketch book that I still have from when I was 5 years old”. This sketch book was inspired and informed by his exposure to magazine photos of cave paintings, pinned on the wall of his primary school classroom. John D Edwards always felt he was an artist and when in his second year at secondary school he was told he could not attend biology lessons, (as he was squeamish and kept throwing up), he asked to replace these lessons with art. His secondary modern boys school had no facilities available at the times of the lessons he was replacing but offered him the use of an internal fire escape staircase where he spent several years during the substituted biology lessons developing his art. After attending Harrow School of Art in 1970 and Central School of Art in London from 1971-1974 he began working with artists and galleries, supporting his art until his own art sales supported him. Through his work he travelled the world, meeting and working alongside many of the most celebrated artists, galleries and collectors of the time. During these formative years, John D Edwards experienced first-hand artists making art, exhibiting and working with galleries until he himself became an established figure in the artistic community.
With exhibitions in London, New York, Chicago and many USA cities, representation with several London Art galleries and collected widely, everything was going in the right direction. Then things changed.
HOW CANCER SAVED MY LIFE
“At the end of 1996 I was diagnosed with cancer and began several years of treatment. Although at times working was difficult, I always thought about and continued to paint. I found this not only therapeutic and sustaining but also an insight into my condition. One of my old themes, ‘The Cowboy’ returned which I found reassuring. ‘The Cowboy’ (Texan Art Dealer) is a portrait of a gallery dealer, a loveable rogue, who exhibited my work in Houston Texas. You can do with a bit of the cowboy spirit as well as the warmth of the big sun behind you”.
‘Out of This World’ is about the detached feeling that comes after numerous operations and different therapies, the feeling of going in and out of the anaesthetic but you are still there, somewhere, waiting to return. Although these are serious matters, I like the sense of playfulness which to me was an inspiration and encouragement that I would be OK.”
“This has been a journey full of revelations about myself and others, many of whom I would not have had the good fortune to meet but for cancer. I have been to the edge of that dark abyss, I have looked over, climbed in and had a good look around. Having faced every scenario of a life-threatening situation I have gently come through having taken responsibility for my health and experienced the freedom of accepting my own mortality. It became clear that the quality of my life was more important than longevity. Apart from all the doctors and nurses offering their help there is so much we can do to help our situation, whatever the prognosis. As I pulled through, I painted the series of hospital paintings with my birds creeping in as doctors and the patients and angels as nurses. I knew this was a good sign.”
When asked how cancer has affected his life John D Edwards responds, “From my earliest memory I loved playing with paints and when I saw a plane flying over, I used to wonder, fantasise about its destination and wish I could go with it. Having lived with cancer for many years, I still love playing with my paints but when I see a plane above, I wish everyone on it well and a good journey but I’m happy to be right where I am today”
“‘Getting Through’ is a happy painting about overcoming illness and the resilience of the human spirit. This painting is a celebration. The birds, I think, represent all the consultants, doctors, angels as nurses, herbalists, faith healers, family, friends, priests, witches, nuns, massage practitioners, vicars and everyone who looked after me. I am really beginning to simplify my palette here. I wanted to paint a yellow painting like the sunshine”.
In 2007 John published an inspirational book “How Cancer Saved My Life” illustrated with wonderful paintings he made during his illness. As a result of this publication, John was invited by hospitals with galleries, charities, Universities and art centres throughout UK to exhibit and talk about the book and his experience of art as therapy and the value of externalising this experience in his studio.
Having spent many years exhibiting in the rarefied world of Mayfair art galleries John D Edwards found a whole new audience, for example an exhibition in The Street Gallery at ULCH London would be seen by thousands of visitors a day. It was a new approach and direction to his work as an artist which included workshops and community arts projects.
‘Some of The Things I Used To Do’ is a painting looking back at the old days before cancer changed his life for ever.
THE NEVER ENDING MURAL
In 2009, even though John’s cancer was in remission, it was recommended that because of all the side effects of the often debilitating treatments he had undergone, he should consider moving from his London studio to a hospice. It was unsafe for him to stay in his 3rd floor studio in his converted biscuit factory. However, he took the opportunity to move to a very similar style Victorian Tanning Factory conversion in Ipswich so he could be close to his family.
He simultaneously became aware of the extensive waterfront along the docks which at the time were covered by blank billboards and a campaign to save the Ipswich Art School Gallery from becoming flats. He realised that a community arts project, which he could organise without too much of his own physical effort whilst raising money for a good cause, was just what he needed. He curated and became the curator of ‘The Never Ending Mural.’
So, John D Edwards, in conjunction with Ipswich Borough Council, launched yet another inspirational and very successful project, the ‘Never Ending Mural’ with more than 50 community volunteers and massive local sponsorship. The idea was to bring together people from all backgrounds and ages and provide a visual link for the town’s cultural activities and districts. John wanted the mural to be a community owned project so with that ownership it would be appreciated and well looked after. “This was not some outside body or individual coming into town and saying, “This is public art and you’ll be happy about it”. This was a genuine community-focused project which brought together big business and community groups, senior citizens with playgroups and school children, young offenders and art students many of whom came to the project via numerous free workshops. It embraced everyone who wanted to be part of it. It was great to see groups talking to one another, swapping information, stories and aspirations. Art brought people together, people who previously had not known one another found that they had common interests and a shared love of their town”
NATIONAL LIFE STORIES ARCHIVES
In March 2020 John D Edwards was invited to begin recording and documenting his life and work for ‘Artists’ Lives’ at the British Library, run by National Life Stories in Association with Tate Archive and in collaboration with the Henry Moore Institute.
All events, publications and associated links will be published as this extraordinary story of a life lived as an artist through half of the 20th Century and the beginning of the 21st Century unfolds and is recorded.
John lives and works from his Suffolk studio and continues to exhibit in both the UK and USA.