Published in Avenir Magazine Online on November 11 2013.
My introduction to the artist John Ledger took place in the autumn of 2012 in the student accommodation of Goldsmiths University. Tall, bespectacled and aloof, Ledger was my flatmate and seldom spoke to me – or anyone for that matter. It was only one month later, during a session of drinking Scrumpy Jack ciders and listening to Joy Division, when Ledger brought to the fore hisartistic capabilities. Our halls of residence had paper thin walls, and I had on many occasions heard a scratching noise, muffled by the sound of music, either his or mine. He opened up his closet door one evening and instead of the usual student gear of crushed, un-ironed clothes and empty bottles, I found a wall high paper pasted on the inside door of the closet, meticulously worked upon every night.
The paper canvas, which he later named The Planet’s Mental Illness (2011), was covered in monochromatic blue biro detailing that was so intricate it demanded focussed attention, leading the eye into its labyrinth like contours. The thematic exploration of the work in question was diverse, and interconnected- the stench of urban decay burgeoned by the presence of vanquished souls buckling under the capitalist regime. As we went through more cans of Scrumpy Jack, it became only too clear- Ledger was a cog in this capitalist machinery and while he had resigned to this truth, he was not happy about it. His art was a necessary endeavor for him in order to have some grip on sanity.
Hailing from Barnsley, a town in South Yorkshire, Ledger obtained his BA in Arts and Design from the University of Huddersfield. Though he was in Goldsmiths, for a short duration, his uncompleted masters in Culture Studies provided a perfect backdrop to the themes found in his art practice. His practice initially stemmed from ecological concerns and personal issues, but later on proliferated to cover a more expansive socio-political domain. The interconnection between these concerns could best be manifested in the form of these large-scale, detailed landscape murals.
Ledger once told me about his obsessive relationships with maps of crowded human settlements. This fixation was the result of living at the bottom of a cul-de-sac, in a town where life seemed vapid and sluggish (“Nobody would ever pass by my window”, he said). His cartographic inspired scapes are his way of including his surroundings into a wider socio-geographical context. This association can also be seen echoed in his artistic style, where the chaos of urban living, cramped full of squalor in sprawling detail play a recurring part.
These mindscapes are chock full of intricate elements, assiduously worked upon, often for months at a time. These visualisations are a reaction to an endless broth of global and local happenings, which capture the feeling of anguish and stress of the modern world. The thematic intensity of the works lie in the dominant cultural assertion that the future is dead; that there’s no alternative to a system that is seemingly dragging us into environmental and social destruction; the link between mental illness, depression, insanity, violence and this infliction on society.
Ledger’s drawing works in conjunction with other artistic modes such as paintings and film, all of which tend towards the same socio-political leaning. They all serve as a channel for his concern for the human landscape under capitalism. But while the other mediums play a supportive role in his practice, it is only the drawings, which enable him to best capture the inconsistency of the world. The message of his work draws inspiration from an amalgamation of sources- music, literature, architecture and world happenings or non-happenings; even the unassuming act of consuming Scrumpy Jacks, finds relevance in Ledger’s work, as witnessed in Achieving and Getting Things Done (2011).
More of his work can be found here.