In the lobby of the List Art Building and within the David Winton Bell Gallery, works rendered in oil paints and soft pastels adorn the walls in a bold embrace of color.
This retrospective exhibition of work by Professor and former Chair of Visual Arts Wendy Edwards opened at the Bell Gallery last Friday. The packed opening celebrated four decades of Edwards’ artwork and teaching, bringing community members as well as Edwards’ family, friends and current and former students to List.
Titled ‘Luscious,’ the exhibit showcases 56 paintings and drawings that Edwards has created since arriving at the University. The exhibit features only a small selection of Edwards’ large oeuvre, which totals to around 1,000 works. In the opening’s introduction, Director of the Bell Gallery Jo-Ann Conklin, stated: “We have (strived) to demonstrate the breadth and depth of Wendy’s practice, which is marked by her masterly use of color, her exploration of the physicality of media and her vibrant commitment to a feminist vision.”
Edwards has been teaching at the University since 1980 and will retire in June. This year, her final classes include VISA 1310: “Beginning Painting,” which she taught this semester, and VISA 1340: “Accessorizing Painting: The Exalted Surface” which she will lead next semester. She was the first female professor in the Department of Visual Arts, and has since significantly contributed to increasing the representation of female and minority artists and faculty in the department.
In an interview with The Herald, Conklin stressed the challenge of selecting which pieces from Edwards’ large body of work to include in the show — given the limited space of the gallery. “We started by saying, what couldn’t we possibly do the show without? Which ones absolutely have to be in? Then we started adding things in to balance everything out.”
Signature aspects of Edwards’ work can be seen throughout the exhibit. In a conversation with curator Ruth Fine during the opening, Edwards touched upon a series of drawings titled “Iceberg,” which involves three framed depictions of icebergs hung on a pink wall. Bright red pastel outlines the shapes of icebergs on white parchment paper, demonstrating her interest in bold color and natural forms, as well as her tendency to draw inspiration from her travels.
Edwards sees each of the paintings in the exhibit as “a singular piece within a large series of work. It’s important to be aware that within each one of those years, I was investigating very thoroughly a particular idea, using a particular material.”
Edwards has impacted the community as both an artist and a professor.
She was the first person Conklin met at the University. “I was amazed at her energy and exuberance then, and I still am. She has a great zest for life and also for teaching,” Conklin said at the talk.
Ayana Evans ’98, adjunct instructor in Visual Art, was a student of Edwards as an undergraduate. Evans, who was double-concentrating at the time and considering dropping visual arts, described the life-changing impact that Edwards had on her. When she confided in her professor, Edwards responded with full support for the young artist. “And I believed her. I dropped the (other) major, I got into grad school because of her and I’m an artist because of her,” Evans said.
Fine, who curated the exhibit with Edwards and Conklin, echoed Evans’ sentiment: “So many students state that Wendy changed not only their art, but their life. That she taught them not only how to make paintings, but how to summon the depth and discipline to be a painter.”