Interview with Brighton Based Artist Mike Edwards

Mike Edwards is an artist known for his text portraits. Using words to make up recognisable images his subjects have often been musicians. Inspired as he is by music and the music industry. An incredibly versatile artist, his recent work has also seen him use neon and more pop art imagery in his work.

Speaking to Art Related Noise, our podcast with Enter Gallery in Brighton. Mike Edwards explains the evolution behind some of his most identifiable styles. The text portraits evolved from a more pointillist style where pixels would be used to create the image. “I just had an epiphany one day that if I just replace the pixel with a letter I could actually tell a story”.

Mike Edwards painting one of his neon pieces

Mike Edwards Podcast Episode

Lighting a Fire

It’s ideas like that and the constant pursuit of them which has come to define Mike Edwards work as an artist. Some of the avenues he has gone down in his work have not been easy to master. However he has been able to pursue them to such an extent where he has achieved mastery. Innovation as a rule seems to excite him. He talks about how innovative technical achievements excite him. This as well as how seeing artists use new techniques and ways of working lights a real fire.

Mike Edwards in his studio in Brighton

“I love those kind of ideas I’ve never seen before. I love art that I’ve never seen before. I try and make art that I’ve never seen before”.

Mike Edwards, Art Related Noise
Debbie Harry portrait made up of text in Mike Edwards studio

Early Career and Music

Mike Edwards early artistic career was intertwined with his love for music. He describes playing the pubs and clubs of Camden in the 90’s. How at this time it was Britpop Central with established and emerging bands playing the local scene. Places such as The Dublin Castle, the Monarch and the Falcon he would play himself. A drummer mainly but also able to perform with the guitar and the keyboard. He talks about music as being a part of himself. “Music is just so immediately in me, it’s just part of everything that I do”.

His art at this time was mainly artisan. Even now it could well be a possible that a Tuscan landscape painted by a young Mike Edwards might still exist. Hidden on the back wall of an Italian restaurant in the Camden area. He would paint backdrops such as this and decorate peoples homes in the day allowing him to explore his music passion at night.

Andrew Weatherall by Mike Edwards

Text Based Portraiture

Musicians were also the first subjects of his text based portraiture. The first one an image of John Lennon made up of words from ‘I am the Walrus’. “Making the paintings out of letters that are of musicians does have a kind of rhythmic quality to it” he tells me. “If you imagine notes of music on a music manuscript, it has a visual rhythm and that’s what the letters do as well”.

As his style evolved so too did the subjects he has chosen to depict. More and more the art and the story behind it have started to intertwine. Now as an artist working against the backdrop of the pandemic he has been telling the story of someone at the heart of it. Part of the ‘Portraits for NHS Heroes‘ campaign led by the artist Thomas Croft, Mike Edwards is telling the story of Thomas Medveczky, a respiratory surgeon on the front line. It’s been an ambitious project. Typically the text portraits take between 6-8 weeks to complete. But this is bigger and more personal.

His NHS portrait tells the first hand account of a doctor in the early days of the pandemic. “I could use this form that I’ve developed to try and preserve the story” said Mike. Not content to paint just a portrait it was to be an image which showed the reality. “What are they seeing that we don’t see and they have to take home every night” he told me. The final image will be based on a selfie from his subject and made up of words from his own experience.

Painting of Thomas Medveczky by Mike Edwards, part of the ‘Portraits for NHS Heroes’ campaign

The Illuminated Mind

Ideas and innovation are at the heart of one of his latest bodies of work. His new neon pieces are as different as you could get from his text portraits. Using the motif of a skull made out of shining neon, the “illuminated mind” is how Mike Edwards describes it. He has a fascination with ideas and innovation. Marvelling at technological achievements and new and different art practices. The neon paintings go some way to helping represent this enlightenment.

It’s this innovation that seems to be at the heart of Mike’s work. From the early days painting scenes in restaurants to developing a technique painting portraits with words. Versatility certainly sits at the heart of his practice. It’s something he talks about in the podcast. How from one idea another style is born which is then honed over years of practice. From text portraits with stories intertwined to abstract representations of the illuminated mind. You can listen to it all on Art Related Noise.

Mike Edwards was interviewed as part of Art Related Noise the podcast of Enter Gallery produced by Inspiring City. He was interviewed in Brighton just after the second lockdown in December 2020.

Mike Edwards painting in his studio
Freddie Mercury by Mike Edwards
Prince by Mike Edwards
Patti Smith by Mike Edwards
Icon influences leading to Mike Edwards neon series

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