After his premature death in 2021, the legacy of New Zealand sculptor John Edgar reflects his international renown achieved over three decades in his pursuit of the ancient knowledge of stone carving techniques in his travels to China, Korea, Taiwan and India. He remains a singular figure in the history of New Zealand sculpture and stone carving. Trained originally in geology, Edgar physically explored and selected individual stones from the great quarries of Scotland, Australia and India, and also prospected for stone in New Zealand’s South Island. His stone pieces are not the result of a studio production team: from selection of the stone to the final polishing, through to difficult international freight logistics, all aspects of his work and complex installations were wrought by the artist himself.
Central to his practice are strong links to the environment, bringing into balance the elements of concept, material and process. He said of these objects, ‘These slices of the land are revelations of how intimately the environment meshes. How seamless are the interrelationships of earth and sky, land and sea, heaven and earth, black and white? The convergence of the two into one.’ Edgar’s fascination with duality offered a consistent thread throughout his work. He sliced stone and inserted bands, crosses and lines of contrasting stone or glass. Enormous technical sophistication was necessary to create works without flaw, fault, scratch or blemish. Edgar’s complete control over his medium and the powerful modern tools used to sculpt, allow for a seamless convergence. He recombined that which has been divided, turning natural forms into artefacts instilled with a simplicity and modernism that belies the technical processes involved.
Exhibiting since 1979, Edgar’s work is well represented in public and private collections both in New Zealand and abroad. Four nationally touring exhibitions Calculus, 2002-2004, Lie of the Land, 1998-1999, Cross Country, 1996, and Making Amends, 1993-1995, presented his work at key stages in his career. In 2004, Edgar installed a public commission titled Transformer, in the Auckland Domain, New Zealand, and in 2009 was made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for his services to art, in particular to sculpture. A high point for Edgar was his commission to create a permanent installation in Great Britain’s Crown Estate: Lie of the Land, 2012, continued his interest in a reparative approach to land, something he had addressed throughout his practice by way of his respectful handling of materials and, later, a considered revisitation of his Scottish heritage, situating New Zealand and its unique geo-cultural make-up within the landscape of its colonial forebear.