Who else thinks and works like Edwin Tanner?
His sense of visual wit has been likened to Thake and Brack – artists with whom he shares a dry sense of humour, a poignant sense of the absurd and a quick eye for the visual joke and pun.
It’s hard to decide how to respond to this acute existential sensitivity, which remains resolutely unsentimental: there is humour, but laughter seems inappropriate; there’s anguish, but tears would be embarrassingly out of place. There’s a dichotomy here that may be a clue: they make statements that are more like questions, or, alternatively, ask questions whose answers are immediately apparent, or non-existent.
His deep concern for literature might explain the animism first seen in his 1950s paintings of factories whose machines he endowed with a quietly watchful consciousness (Engineering Drawing) and an energy which he later transmitted into the lines themselves (Black and white coming in ….). Social comment is clear in In thee we trust, though the work may contain an ironic reflection on the analgesics he was taking to relieve the chronic pain he endured following the car accident in 1961 – (all illustrated opposite). For better or for worse, no river flows quite like Tanner’s … strong brown god … which seems to go backwards as much as forwards. Untitled – Logic would put any formal logician into a tailspin and the Religious drawing would reduce theologians to a baffled silence (illustrated front and back covers).
If such explanations still remain unsatisfactory, since they only get half way there, this is only right and proper, for they leave the other half in a mysteriously vibrant void. Always the realist, Tanner would have given short shrift to the notion of “the ghost in the machine”, yet paradoxically it’s from there that much of his work derives its force and its appeal. Better still, he manages to have it both ways.