This week Adi has written a post about the life of Edwin G Lucas. You can discover the varied and unique work of Lucas in our exhibition Edwin G. Lucas: An Individual Eye (on at the City Art Centre until 10 February 2019).
Edwin G. Lucas, Caley Station, Edinburgh, 1942. City Art Centre, Museums & Galleries Edinburgh. © the artist’s estate. (Photo: City Art Centre)
Edwin G. Lucas has always been something of a polymorph. You could pick out literally any three paintings from any three points in his life (adolescence, adulthood, and old age) and you would have no idea that they were all created by the same person. That shouldn’t be too surprising, considering the fact that Lucas had been painting since he was 15 years old. He practically grew up with art. It only makes sense that as he changed and grew as a person, his artworks would continue to change and grow with him.
This unique ability to adapt to various experimental styles of painting was Lucas’s greatest asset and, at the same time, his greatest hindrance when breaking into the mainstream art world. With his deep, surrealist style, Lucas challenged the minds of his audiences, sometimes even addressing serious issues such as war and death. Much to his inconvenience, many of those within the upper-echelons of Scotland’s then relatively conservative art scene, such as The Royal Scottish Academy, were very conditional in their support of Lucas; choosing to only exhibit his more conventionally-popular pieces of landscapes. Essentially, they just needed him to follow the herd, slap on his beret and be a good little painter sheep like everyone else. Initially, Lucas refused to bow down to these gatekeepers. What good was it to sacrifice his integrity and individuality just to fit in? Like any other artist, he wanted to create his work for an audience but, to some degree, he needed to be creating it for himself. Unfortunately, this bold move did not work to his favour.
In April of 1950, he set up his first solo exhibition at the New Gallery on Shandwick Place, displaying many of his best works from 1936 onwards. The New Gallery was the perfect place to amplify his artistic voice but, unfortunately, his works fell on deaf ears as he barely received any attention from either critics or audiences. Lucas then gave it another run the year after, in the same gallery, where he made sure to update his portfolio of works; displaying how far he had come; how weird, wacky, and wonderful he had become over the years. And still…crickets. It was then that, after so many years of trying to break into the mainstream art world, Lucas eventually broke off his love affair with painting.
Fortunately, Lucas had nothing to lose by embarking on his artistic hiatus. Since having left school in the late 1920s, Lucas had had a stable job as a civil servant, an occupation which actually allowed him to fund his creative pursuits in the first place. As a matter of fact, Lucas had been urged to enter the civil service by his parents, ironically due to his uncle’s own failures as a full-time artist. By November of 1952, Lucas found a love greater than painting in his wife Eileen McCulloch, with whom he fathered two sons: Frank in 1953 and Alan in 1957. This sudden transition from brooding, artistic bachelor to mild-mannered family man was a great one for Lucas at that. With a family to provide for, his priorities had completely re-shifted and the creative drive within him was brought to a halt.
However, by the early 1980s, as he approached his early 70s, Lucas ended his career in the civil service with a well-deserved and comfy retirement. And, of course, by then, his two sons had already grown up and flown out of the family nest. He had now outgrown the two main responsibilities that had brought him so much purpose throughout the latter half of his adult life. So, why not rekindle the childhood passion that had defined so much of the first half of his life? He had nothing but time on his hands and he was ready to get them dirty. Unfortunately, although his youthful, artistic persona had returned, his increasingly weak eyesight making it harder and harder for him to fully realise his artistic vision. Of course, after having looked at some of his latest works, one could never tell, especially from looking at his beautifully intricate oil paintings and hauntingly vivid self portrait.
Eventually, by February of 1989, with help from his family, Lucas was able to have his oil paintings exhibited at the Queen’s Hall in Edinburgh. Additionally, the Scottish Arts Club on Rutland Square held an exhibition of his paintings later on in October. Lucas had gained a modest following from these works but, despite this, it wasn’t enough to dig him out of the underground art scene, with many commercial galleries still refusing to display his art- just like they had done 30 years before. For Lucas, it appeared as if history was beginning to repeat itself, until the City Art Centre acquired Caley Station, Edinburgh and became the first public gallery to own one of his paintings. At long last, he had, after all these years, and as Steve Jobs would put it, made a ‘ding in the universe’! Sadly, at the age of 79 years old, Lucas passed away from leukaemia just a few months later in December 1990, missing out on the long-awaited adulation that his paintings would finally receive in the 20 years that followed.
In 2013, after a meeting between his youngest son Alan and curator, Patrick Elliot, five of Lucas’ paintings were displayed by the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in celebration of a ‘lost Surrealist’. Additionally, one of his compositions was recently hung alongside the works of other ground-breaking artists such as William Gear, William Crosbie and Charles Pulsford, altogether, once again, in the behemoth of prestige that is the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. In fact, another astonishing posthumous feat made by Lucas was achieved in 2014 when a brand new street in his childhood home of Juniper Green was renamed Lucas Gardens; extending his artistic legacy even further beyond his paintings!
Having carefully examined the life and works of Edwin G Lucas, one could appropriately define him as a sort of 20th century Vincent Van Gogh; both produced works far ahead of their time and, for that, their genius was taken for granted as they perished into obscurity. And, yet, why is it now that we have come to appreciate them? Simply put, both were an acquired taste and the only thing that they valued more than their art was their integrity. A lot of people may not have seen what they did when they were alive but at least they died knowing that they did it their way, and no one else’s.