Mike Edwards is best known for his unique portraits of musicians captured in their own words using a pioneering blend of typography and visual imagery. A break-out from the style he is most recognised for, Mike Edwards’ Neon paintings showcase both his versatility as an artist and his skill as a painter.
Edwards began experimenting with neon paintings over six years ago, mixing contrasting classical art and contemporary street art with a large painting called 'Bellini Fellini'. “I had an image in my head for neon rain and wanted to use it as a metaphor for modernity raining on these classic pieces of art. I wanted to paint using an old master technique and make it contemporary.”
Brightonians may also remember Mike Edwards 'Neon Camo Snowdog of Hope' which featured luminous neon seagulls asserting a glow of optimism over the blue camo pattern.
“I was really pleased to be part of the Snowdog Art Trail in Brighton. I’d had a personal connection with Martletts and was very happy to help raise funds for such an excellent charity. It was also a way of seeing how the public would react to the new painted neons”.
Edwards couldn’t stay away from the lure of neon and has released a new series of untitled paintings that capture the irresistible appeal of the neon light. Bright, glowing colours, skilfully applied in layers of acrylic paint, he knew he had reached the desired effect when one online collector asked him where the plug socket went!
How do you get the Neon to look so much like a real neon light?
Over a couple years of experimenting I found that whatever background you put the neon on it needs to be separated out with a bright white background before applying the fluorescent paint. So I have to have the highest pigmented white acrylic paint to create the shape before I paint the top coat. Fluorescent pigment is really transparent, so it needs a few layers of paint before it has a solid colour. It takes about 7 or 8 layers of paint before it has the desired effect.
I also consider that the light I want to capture is emitting light as opposed to absorbing light. You have to think about where that light is transmitting and how it will be reflected. So I figured the surrounding painted surface had to have a more luminous glow to it. The drop shadow is also key. It makes it ping from the canvas like an optical illusion.
I was thinking of how other artists have tried to capture different kinds of light throughout art history. For example artists like Monet who studied the effects of natural sunlight in a series of paintings of Rouen Cathedral and the famous haystacks series. Also Edward Hopper painted those stark late night diners in the 50’s with lone drinkers under fluorescent lights. He was trying to capture that very flat, cold light in paint form. It’s a progression from that really as I wanted to capture that unusual glowing element of neon light.
You have described the stylised ‘Starving Artist’ skull motif in these paintings as “An evolving Pop emblem developed as a pictorial device to capture observations and reflections on the current state of both personal and world events.” Do you feel like this could be the your artist logo?
It could be, although the reason why I developed this stylised skull was because I was thinking about how, as people, we go through the world with our own vision of the world. Someone once said there is no one truth just multiple truths. I wanted to create a motif that could show a representation of a mind floating through the world, while the world floated through that mind.
At the same time, I wanted it to reference a lineage of Pop motifs from recent art history, such as Harvey Ball's Smiley Face - created during the optimism of the 60's, Keith Haring's Radiant Baby in the 80's - to Kaws X-eyed Mickey developed in the blissed-out late nineties/early noughties. It is also reminiscent of the iconic symbol of anxiety, Edward Munch’s ‘Scream’. A truly fitting emblem of 2020!
The skull is a universal motif across all human cultures throughout history. It acknowledges our shared experience and reminds us that we are all the same underneath. The Startled Artist skull motif has a tribal feel to it but the neon adds a contemporary edge. I wanted it to be a symbol of a thoughtful mind or an illuminated mind. Something that is ‘lit up’.
Further down the line the idea is that these neons will be floating over different backgrounds such as a landscape or a seascape or something completely abstract. I feel like I’m just at the start.
What did you think of the Winter Commission at Tate Britain by Chila Kumari Singh Burman?
I think Chila’s work, which emits such light, in the context of the darkness we’ve collectively experienced this this year, is the perfect artwork for 2020! It’s like, as we go into 2021, let’s just light this thing up now! It’s that thrill of the night time being illuminated by some kid of joy.
I’m really fascinated by that moment in the day where it goes from the end of the light of the day into the dark of the evening and the sky hovers at that dark blue, then you start seeing the neon lights and it gives you that pre-party anticipation of the night to come.
I like the work’s multicultural inclusiveness and, in its celebratory nature, and how it provides a sense of hope that there is a neon light at the end of the tunnel!
A Startled Artist is better than a Starving artist! Have you felt that your work and the industry has been unappreciated during the pandemic? Do you feel more or less important as an artist in 2020?
I think people’s interest in art has increased over this year, although I have to acknowledge that the arts generally like other sectors have been decimated by the pandemic.
I also think the government have twigged that not only do the arts have a positive effect on people culturally but also there’s a huge financial benefit to the country. Art is actually a vitally important industry and I’m pleased to see it’s received financial help and hope this continues. I also think Grayson Perry has done a great job with his Art Club communicating the importance of art and the benefit of art to a wider audience.
Art is the synthesis of what it is to be human. That’s what an art object is and why when we see it we think about our own life and our own position and views in the world. It’s how we measure and record ourselves. It’ll be interesting to see how we look back at the art made during 2020 over time. There should be a huge exhibition in a year or two showing all the artwork made in 2020, seeing how this extraordinary year was recorded.
View our selection of Mike Edwards artworks here.
The Startled Artist Neon Paintings are an ongoing series and more will become available as Mike finishes each painting. Please contact us if you would like to reserve a neon painting.