The optimism of modernity: recovering modern reasoning in typography


‘I am glad to see two very old friends here – Edward’s children whom I have known longer than I can remember. I first met Edward in 1948, I think, in David Sylvester’s home – and we immediately struck up a friendship on the basis of a shared enthusiasm for the poetry of Max Jacob. We seemed to be the only people to be enthusiastic about the great Cubist poet at the time. So, our friendship dates back to that chance meeting, and I think it remained constant until Edward died. So, much of the work that I see on the walls around me I saw coming into being, I sometimes even participated in it – and as often happens, when one sees something coming into being, one doesn’t quite realize how important and how vital it is to one’s own life, never mind to other people’s.

So I think it is great that Reading University has put together this exhibition of Edward’s work. Looking round the walls and seeing much that is familiar and much that I can’t remember – things I had forgotten or overlooked, allows me to appreciate that it all adds up to a very substantial achievement. I think it is wonderful that something which was actually crucial to very many people has been given its historical value and location.

One of the puzzling things about Edward was that although quite conscious of the value of his own work, he was also very humble. That humility is what made him such a great teacher. You could came to him with a very silly idea, he would mull over it very carefully before picking it to pieces to show quite how silly it was.

There was something about Edward which I think perhaps people won’t immediately appreciate. Seeing him here primarily as a graphic artist, it is important to remember that he was a painter – and that he was a painter of great quality. I remember showing a picture by him to Prunella Clough who was a shrewd judge of painting, and she looked at it very very carefully, and said slightly testily: ‘I don’t know how he does it, but he always gets it right, doesn’t he?’ And I think, that’s the judgment which I’d like to stand by, and that I think Prunella’s judgment will do on all that we see around us.

I don’t think this is a place or time for long speeches, but I think I’ll leave you with that thought.’

Joseph Rykwert

‘I think that I particularly liked Joseph’s reference on Edward’s love of dancing. I witnessed it many many times and particularly with any South American music which he couldn’t resist it. And as you know, he didn’t dance in the style with arms going in all directions, it was more like that [Edwin Taylor shows the style] it was always a joy to watch. He enjoyed it so much! As Joseph Rykwert wrote: “He had this extraordinary feline grace.” Lovely man!

I think the greatest compliment I had from Edward was that he referred to me as “his companion of the road” – but in Spanish. That was a tremendous compliment for Edward to give – he would travel the road with you and you could travel with him! That was marvellous.’

Edwin Taylor

‘To his younger students, of whom – unbelievably – I was one, he was a mysterious person. He seemed to have access to knowledge that can only be revealed gradually, in little snippets. It wasn’t that he was ungenerous; it was that he didn’t want you to be too overwhelmed with too much knowledge in order to do what you should be doing. And I found myself doing things of dada and futurism and surrealism without knowing anything about those movements at all. It was an extraordinary piece of legerdemain by him that he managed to persuade us into an understanding of those great movements without being overruled by them. And I see this as a particular gift he gave me.’

Ken Garland