John Edgar - Calculus
An exhibition of 100 altered counting stones
at the Dowse Art Museum until 12 May 2002.

Reviewed by Galvan Macnamara, Sunday Star Times, 23 February 2002.

There is something arcane and alchemical about the altered stones of John Edgar. One immediately knows they are expressions of the post millennium but there lingers a lithic/stone knowledge from our reptilian brains. All New Zealanders both Maori and Pakeha have a deep seated knowledge of a stone age past. For Maori it is a recent memory, for Pakeha their mythology is redolent with stone lore and stone stories and a distant stone age past.

To talk about something as being "Stone Age" in 2002 is almost putting it down. But there is a pervasive power of stone that draws us close. Every one being honest will have collected stones from somewhere at some time, as memories or mementos or because the stone looked like something or because a stone with a hole in keeps the fairies away, or a piece of power stone to adorn and protect us. Human history is but a blink of the eye in relationship to the memory of stone. (Parts of this country between the Takaka Hills and Takaka itself are some of the oldest stone deposits in the world, believed to be 600+ million years old.)

Calculus, from the Latin means a small stone used in reckoning on an abacus. Stones formed in the body, like kidney stones are also called calculus. (One wonders why all that pain doesn't add up). The altered stones are lined around the room in matrixes and linear equations and in each corner a larger altered stone is exhibited exposed for touching. Because sometimes the fingers expose greater truth than the eyes which can confuse the brain message. Fingers don't lie.

The stones are made from grewacke which Edgar calls the 'basement of New Zealand'. It is everywhere, it has changed Edgar's world and he has made hundreds of artefacts from this base rock. His altering is done with immaculate precision, diamond blades, grinding wheels and carborundum and hard work are his tools. The amazing thing is you cannot see how he has done it. It is alchemy turning base stone into wonder... Edgar says in his catalogue notes: "It was exciting to be starting with something as base as road metal, and my primary objective was to work the stone so its aesthetic qualities would make it precious. A transmutation of the base to the precious, a metamorphosis."

Edgar has that combination of spiritual and physical skills that gives him a special place in the pantheon of art makers. He has an amazing work ethic, doing what he does best at every chance he has. He has a formidable intellect and is always seeking new information about what he does and the materials and tools he uses. He knows the stone of New Zealand better than anyone in the last couple of hundred years. He has been with other rock hounds to distant places to search for stone that geophysically links to NZ stone. Stone that was once part of Gondwanaland. He is generous with sharing his information. He is always pushing his boundaries making better and better work. His critical awareness knows that fact. And the things he makes radiate their excellence for all who want to really see.

His educational background is in the sciences, and pointing himself in the direction of a PhD he was diverted by the power of stone and it has consumed and captivated his life ever since. His first exhibition "The Tail of the Dragon" was at the Denis Cohn Gallery in Auckland in 1979. He was 29. In 1983 he has his first exhibition at the Dowse Called "Signs of the Comet. In exactly the same space he is exhibiting in this time. To honour the Dowse's faith in him he has taken three stones from the Hutt River and fashioned and altered them as a gift to the permanent collection.

Edgar works within a very limited framework of design concepts. He either alters and enhances extant forms, a greenstone pebble for instance or he dissects the stones and replaces parts of the form with materials like glass and other stone. The simple intervention which he repeats again and again in other work is always fresh and vital. He had determined that during his lifetime he will attempt to make 1000 numbered and boxed coins. He embraces the worked stone with a restriction of copper. They sit in your pocket transmitting your heat and absorbing your oils, as talisman or tokens.

Children and adults who just won't be able to resists are being asked to bring stones to make a cairn outside the Dowse. A manifestation of stone power to which we add symbolic water, air & fire to get the starting point for the recipe for the projection of existence. The arcanists liken the imagination to a magnet, which with its power of attraction, draws the things of the external world within man, to reshape them there. Albrecht Durer said "If someone really possessed the inner ideas of which Plato speaks, then he would draw his whole life from them and create artwork after artwork without reaching an end." It seems that John Edgar is richly endowed with this knowledge and once more, for us; through his art turns the circle without end. Challenging us to find the answer to the sum.