Blinded by the Image of the Words

Ekphrasis is a term used to describe when poets praise the images of artists. The opposite applies to Edward Jarvis’s painting. In his icons, it is instead the poets that are praised through phrases borrowed from poems. And although the specific poem and poet lie close to his heart, an exceptionally free association is established when the text becomes the focus of the image. A giant of 20th century Swedish poetry, Gunnar Ekelöf, demonstrated in his final trilogy how innovative links could be established between older cultures of the East and the dying poet’s heritage in his present time of the past. The notion of extinguishing in Ekelöf’s poetry is initiated by the physical act of blinding. It is then, through that process, that the most vital questions are asked with regard to how we live our lives. Our inner compass, mo- rality, and approach to life are ransacked. A similar line of questioning takes place in Edward Jarvis’s paintings. They build upon the eternal stumbling blocks that both religion and culture have struggled with over the centuries. In Jarvis’s hands, the universal actors switch roles and are given new paragons of virtue to mull over. The starry skies, the peepholes focused on humanity, are offered the viewer. And there we stand behind them, peering voyeuristically over or under the scene that unfolds with the sole purpose of awakening those gifted with true sight.

Could it perhaps be that the annunciation takes place over and over again, every morning, as we wake up to a new day and a new possibility in the womb? Who judges, aside from those already judged, the contents of the day? What sacrifices are necessary in order to assess who can or should be resisted? Edward Jarvis lifts forth man’s shortcomings and entanglements of the soul, and sees the inherent greatness as something destined to be awakened. The world bathed in golden rays captivates our wonder, but in Jarvis’s clockwork, the heart responds to the insight of the possible and impossible love, to the encounters in life, and the eternal judgements in their wake. The silver blackens with kisses, and the dream lives on. Edward Jarvis’s strangely rich pictorial idiom borrows from the best storytellers and artists of the ages, those obligated to convey the words, even to the illiterate lacking knowledge of them. Jarvis has no need, however, of adopting a literal stance, but instead tweaks and tinkers away with his multifaceted painterly vocabulary, knowing full well that wordsmiths cannot fully grasp the richness of the image. An image that, ultimately, is its own domain.

Susanna Slöör
Artist, art critic and former Permanent Secretary of the Royal Swedish Art Academy