Edwin Russell Tanner
31 Dec 1920 - 27 Nov 1980
Edwin Tanner has long been identified as an artist who worked outside the mainstream. He came to prominence as a painter during the 1950s when he began exhibiting a distinct series of works that are not easily categorised within the stylistic tendencies of Australian modernism. “He owes no allegiance to any particular school of painting but it has been suggested that he is the sole member of the class “mathematical expressionist.”” This description, from the artist’s biography in a 1960 exhibition catalogue, is a fitting one.
Tanner had trained as an engineer and was working in Hobart as Engineer-in-Charge at the Hydro-Electric Commission of Tasmania when he enrolled in evening classes in a Diploma of Art at Hobart Technical College in 1951. He completed this seven year course in four, and during the period of his studentship began exhibiting works, initially at the Contemporary Art Society in Melbourne in 1954. The same year, Tanner enrolled in a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Hobart, majoring in Philosophy and English.
Inspired by the varied facets of his intellectual pursuits, Tanner established an independent creative vision.Tanner’s expertise in mathematics, engineering and aeronautics informed his subjects, but his art was equally fuelled by his devotion to literature, philosophy and music. Combining these influences, he created works of a scientifically-inspired visual poetry.
'The engineers' is an exemplary work from this formative period and telling of the artist’s exploration of the relationships between humanity and technology. The engineers reveals a style of a taut linear precision that Tanner used to invoke subjects drawn from his daily workplace as an engineer. 'The engineers' embodies the fraught energy of a high tension wire in an image where human and machine elements have become interchangable and part of the interconnected movements of a finely tuned instrument.
Tanner’s compositions, though somewhat whimsical in appearance, are ultimately driven by his primary concern with exploring the “mysteries of the internal world” (Tanner 1963). As such, 'The engineers' is a product of his existential musings, encapsulating something of the conditions of a scientific age, as he questions the place of the self within the technological dimensions of the modern world.
Water Power Engineers
oil on linen
79.0 x 98.5 x 2.5 cm stretcher; 87.0 x 106.2 x 5.5 cm frame
Signature & date
Signed and dated u.l. corner, black oil "EDWIN TANNER./ .54".
Signed lower c. verso on backboard, blue-green synthetic polymer paint? ".../ EDWIN TANNER.".
Dated bot c. verso on backboard, black synthetic polymer paint? ".../ 1953 - 1954".
Australian Collection Benefactors Fund 2019
Not on display
© Edwin Tanner
Shown in 4 exhibitions
The Arts Festival of the Olympic Games (1956), National Gallery of Victoria [Swanston Street], Melbourne, 18 Nov 1956–15 Dec 1956
Edwin Tanner Retrospective 1976, The Age Gallery, Melbourne, 18 Oct 1976–29 Oct 1976
Modern Australian Painting, Charles Nodrum Gallery (2016), Charles Nodrum Gallery, Richmond, 31 Mar 2016–23 Apr 2016
Edwin Tanner: Mathematical Expressionist, TarraWarra Museum of Art, Healesville, 12 May 2018–15 Jul 2018
Referenced in 3 publications
Edwin Tanner retrospective 1976, 'The Catalogue (4)', Melbourne, 1976, n.p.. cat. no. 77 listed as 'Water Power Engineers'
Edwin Tanner: Mathematical expressionist, 'List of works', pg. 132-134, Healesville, 2018, 39 (colour illus.), 132.
The Arts Festival Melbourne: A guide to the Exhibitions with Introductory Commentaries on the Arts in Australia, Melbourne, 1956, 148. cat. no. 137