Edward Carvalho-Monaghan: Perennial Struggle.

Work / Illustration

“We’re likely to plummet into a new dark age”: Illustrator Edward Carvalho-Monaghan on learning from the past

Edward Carvalho-Monaghan is an old friend of It’s Nice That. Having originally been one of The Graduates 2013, Ed’s bold, block-coloured drawings have repeatedly intrigued us over the past five years. Now, the accomplished illustrator is carving out a new path for himself. His latest creations resemble surreal, Dali-esque landscapes that feature anything from floating shells to biscuits and fish. His explosive creations are inspired by the likes of MC Escher, Giorgio De Chirico and Hieronymus Bosch as well as Rex Whistler and Eric Ravilious. This comes as no surprise considering the impossibly detailed work Ed produces. His dream-like compositions distort dimensions and prompt the viewer to closely examine the intricacies of his work. We catch up with Ed to see what goes on inside his compelling mind.

It’s been a while since we last spoke. What’s new?
I’m currently back in the small town I grew up in called Burnham, just down the road from Slough. If you read the graduates listing back in 2013 you’ll see that I was a bit of a curmudgeon with nothing particularly good to say about the place. That still holds true for Slough, where an abominable plastic space worm architectural monstrosity has recently replaced a slightly less ugly brutalist structure. Burnham is a different story though and I’ve spent quite a bit of time eyeing the beautiful churches and quiet solemnity in the town. The newest thing I’ve discovered is the final resting place of William Wyndham Grenville, the Whig Prime Minister buried in the local church. He was Prime Minister of the cabinet that abolished the slave trade in 1807 and a campaigner for Catholic emancipation. So, since the last time we spoke I’ve converted from Oikophobia to Oikophilia.

Your illustration style has changed a lot in the past few years. How come?
The changes in my work have been due to the new ideas I’ve attempted a tussle with. For example; the Infinity and Simulated Universe posters were created after long discussions with my friend Max Sanderson, who runs the Guardian Science podcast. The posters were for the Mass Interaction series of talks he’s been putting on independently, where he invites prominent academics who’ve written on different topics for a chat. We’ll meet at the pub a couple of weeks before the events and talk through the theories. He helps me understand the mathematical and scientific substrate of visual ideas I’ve been learning about for some time, for example the Golden Section and Fibonacci numbers in the Infinity theory.


Edward Carvalho-Monaghan: Venus Among the Columns.


Edward Carvalho-Monaghan: The Snake of Chaos Disguised as Culture.

Your illustrations are totally surreal. How do you go about visualising them?
The most recent images I’ve produced are a result of sitting in front of a large sheet of paper for anywhere between a day and a week, waiting for images to slowly trickle out. I work incredibly slowly because I’ve increased the amount of detail in my work. The point of that is to creep towards some kind of ethereal structure that emerges between objects and subjects. If you were to take apart all the different elements and reconstruct them on a three dimensional plane you’d find that some parts would be impossible to reproduce. I always want there to be enough in an image to merit repeated views and in the most successful pieces for there to never be a definitive place to rest your eyes without being taken around again.

Why do you draw on classical imagery in your work?
I guess this leads back to my answer to the first question, where I mention the desolate postmodern architecture and the church next to Slough station. I think we’re likely to plummet directly into a new dark age if we don’t start translating, transforming and transmitting the knowledge passed down to us from past generations. Of course they got some things wrong. But I find that the contemporary response is more or less that the old teachings have absolutely no value whatsoever and only represent cis-hetero, normative patriarchal structures of oppression. The space worm building embodies this idea perfectly in the field of Architecture and it exists only to repudiate what came before it. I want to make peace with the past, learn from the mistakes and as Edmund Burke said, renew our partnership… not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born.


Edward Carvalho-Monaghan: The Biscuits and Concrete Curtains in the Metaphysical Desert.


Edward Carvalho-Monaghan: Metaphysical Interior Without Biscuits.


Edward Carvalho-Monaghan: The Simulated Universe


Edward Carvalho-Monaghan: Black Holes


Edward Carvalho-Monaghan: Venus Among The Shells.


Edward Carvalho-Monaghan: Battle of the Sexes in Desolation.


Edward Carvalho-Monaghan: The Venus of Paper and Stone Momentarily Falls Together Between the Arches.


Edward Carvalho-Monaghan: Diana’s Arrow Pierces Hermaphroditus at Marienbad.