Mike Edwards is one of the pioneers of contemporary Typographic Art. His latest creation sees the iconic Brigitte Bardot transformed through the text of French erotic pulp-fiction novels into a captivating ‘readable’ giclee.
In this Q&A he tells us all about this stunning new print and gives us a fascinating insight into the artistic life of Mike Edwards – complete with the threat of “philistine governments” and advice for painting straight lines.
How did you create Bardot (Giclee Signed Limited Edition of 25)?
By an insanely painstaking method that’s taken a few years to develop. It's so labour intensive it sometimes drives me to the edge of quitting and getting a day job as an abstract expressionist or a minimalist or something. You could say it was created using a ‘dense maximalist technique’...
Do you think Bardot is an icon? Does she still have a cultural significance?
Are you kidding? I think she’s one of the sexiest women that’s ever lived and her status as one of the original sex symbols - along with Marilyn Monroe - is firmly cemented in popular culture and continues to endure today. I was in Paris last year and couldn’t believe the amount of vintage Bardot imagery I saw about the city - particularly the huge window displays in Lancell’s
What I like about Bardot more than Marilyn though is her association with Parisian intellectuals in the 50’s and 60’s - it gives her a much more of an enlightened European aesthetic - she’s a woman in control of her destiny. She’s definitely not the ‘girl next door’. She doesn’t have the cutesy, innocent ‘fluttering eyelashes’ characteristic that Monroe often imparts, instead she’s the woman in the hot, subterranean jazz club at three in the morning smoking Gitanes and reading Simone de Beauvoir.
In other words - she’s liberated - free. And whilst her image is the physical embodiment of sex and seduction, at the same time she makes the statement that she won’t be manipulated - and this combination of beauty, intelligence and strength is what makes her iconic. And this is also what continues to make her culturally significant - and for me, connects her with contemporary liberators such as Pussy Riot, Aung San Suu Kyi and New York’s ‘Topless Pulp Fiction’ group.
Why do you think this portrait of her is so successful?
Hopefully the combination of the French text, the seductive colours and the ‘pulp paperback’ composition manages to portray the very essence of Bardot - sexy yet strong and intelligent.
Technically - it’s one of the few times I’ve used a combination of both larger and small text simultaneously across the same image. The smaller text was used to define the key features of the face and hopefully was a way of successfully capturing the fire of the eyes and the allure of the lips - whilst the larger text drives home the point that the image is made solely from text.
Also, for much of my previous work I’ve adhered to a specific set of rules I imposed upon myself - the main one being that each letter should be a single colour. But in this piece I’ve used shading across the letters - more time-consuming, but it creates a softer blend of tones which complements the subject more.
Similarly, I haven’t used a defined font - I’ve used my own handwriting which, because of its roundness, perhaps helps to evoke a more personal, intimate feel. Like the way a handwritten love letter has the edge over a typed proclamation of love.
What’s the relationship between words and images in this work?
The words that create the visual image of Brigitte Bardot are all titles of French erotic pulp fiction novels such as “La Caress du Fouet”
Compositionally, the idea is that it’s an old vintage pulp paperback that’s had a list of French erotic pulp novels written over the cover. By applying a clever optical trick - i.e. by painting each letter a different colour - the words in the list magically converge into the pictorial image of Bardot. So there’s a concrete relationship between the words and the image in that the words physically create the picture - but at the same time there’s also a cerebral relationship in that the words are able to extend the relationship with the image by conveying further images and meanings in our heads.
What made you become an artist?
For as long as I can remember I’ve felt I was an artist.
How did you get started?
It still feels like I’m just starting.
What’s your medium?
Paint liberated by Photoshop.
What would you say are the main themes you pursue?
The study of depiction - can visual images be depicted by words? Content-wise I’m drawn to themes of liberty and freedom of expression.
What are you currently working on?
I always have commissions on the go - some that no-one but the client will ever see - and some such as the Lord Attenborough portrait I’m working on for Sussex University - which everyone’ll see towards the end of this year. I’ve also just started a new series of ‘Niqab’ paintings contemplating oppression in the Middle east and contrasting it with our own liberty. Combining pictorial elements from the two cultures as well is also giving the paintings a rich ‘visual sizzle’.
Which of your works are you most proud of?
Haven’t made ‘the one’ yet.
Do you care whether people like your work?
I care that my work connects with people.
What memorable responses have you had to your work?
I made a unique version of the David Bowie artwork for a Cancer Research auction. Cancer Research then asked Bowie if he would sign the piece to add to it’s value. He signed it - and it went on to raise £22,000.
What is the greatest threat to art today?
What’s the best advice anyone ever gave you?
Pierre Finkelstein wrote that the best way to paint a straight line is to not look directly at the brush as you paint the line - but to look ahead of the brush - that way you’ll get a straight line. Plus, it’s a great metaphor for life...
What’s your favourite film?
'La Haine' - preferably with live soundtrack by Asian Dub Foundation. Although I’d also recommend that short film of John Baldessari’s career voiced-over by Tom Waits... “This is Jon Baldessari’s pencil..”