Wendy Edwards’ artworks are bold and exuberant, marked by her masterly use of color, her exploration of the physicality of media—primarily oil pigments and soft Sennelier pastels—and her abiding commitment to a feminist vision.This retrospective exhibition—including fifty-six paintings and drawings—spans the four decades of work that Edwards has created since joining the faculty of Brown’s Department of Visual Art in 1980.
Edwards came of artistic age in the late seventies, when Pattern and Decoration (P&D) was a prevalent artistic movement. Positioned as a response to minimalism, P&D embraced color—which Edwards acknowledges as foremost among her artistic passions—and decorative patterns drawn from textiles that were often associated with “craft” and gendered as feminine, women’s work.
Throughout her oeuvre, Edwards chronicles and responds to experiences relating to her travels, to events in her personal life, and to her interest in nature and natural forms. In the mid-eighties, she traveled to China for the first time. The landscape, so foreign to Edwards, is reflected in images of imbalance. Rice paddies shift diagonally and horizon lines tilt in Elephant Trunk, 1985, and other works from this period. An image of a baby refers to the birth of the artist’s daughter, Georgia. Other travels have left their mark: in drawings of icebergs, produced during a residency in Newfoundland in 1998; in motifs from Pennsylvania Dutch furniture and ceramics in works for an exhibition in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, in 1993; and in drawings of lace coiffes, hats traditionally worn in Pont-Aven, where Edwards taught during summers between 1995 and 2011.
Iconic compositions of centrally placed objects—flowers, leaves, neckties—appear often in Edwards’ works from the late eighties and continue intermittently to the present day. Opulently rendered cross-sections of fruit (Georgia Peach, 1989; and Fig, 1991 ) are reminiscent of Georgia O’Keeffe’s sensual floral imagery—an association with sex that Edwards makes explicit in a stunning, gestural painting titled Dickhead, 1993. Painterly abstractions led Edwards to more experimental mark-making—the application of pigment extruded through cake-decorating tools. Combining the decorative with geometric abstraction, Edwards created works in which wavy-edged ribbons of pigment defined patterns of concentric squares. In another approach, seen in Blue Net, 2001, she fashioned “nets” that overlie grounds of flat or swirling color. The nets remained a major force in Edwards’ work for more than a decade, later employed in combination with elements such as flower blossoms or vases, which they obscured or enhanced.
Two strains of work have occupied Edwards over the past decade. The first was a foray into collage employing Mexican oilcloth. While in Comillas, Spain, Edwards began to use this patterned material as a convenient substrate for paintings. Later, she combined fragments cut from oilcloth with her distinctive nets, creating images like Tipper, 2012, that harken back to P&D.
The second strain continues her fascination with natural forms. A series of small-scaled paintings of flowers reveal Edwards’ dialogue with earlier art. Examples include Monsieur Ed, 2009, in dark brooding tones of brown, black, orange, and white, and Watteau’s Gift, 2009, rendered in pastel pinks and blues. Flourish and Mounted, both from 2019 and the most recent works in the exhibition, are reinterpretations of Van Gogh’s irises.
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