I first found out about artist Cheryl Edwards when she posted a small portrait called Adelaide on social media. The depth of color, use of pattern and the way that she captured this woman’s expression was heart stopping. Adelaide appeared to be timid and fierce at the same time. I wrote to Cheryl and we soon became friends by messaging about art and studio life.
This morning I was able to stop into Cheryl’s light filled studio in Brookland on Monroe Street in NW Washington DC. I was greeted with a joyful hug and we spent the first 15 minutes in an intense and emotional conversation about politics, mutual friends and the Washington D.C. artist community.
Cheryl is easy to know and cuts right to punch, which makes it even more fun to listen to her talk. She began by telling me that she started out as an attorney in New York City, but soon realized that she had another calling. The stories that Cheryl wanted to tell were better told through drawing and painting, and so began her multifaceted career as an artist as she had her first exhibition at a salon in Washington D.C.
During the course of our interview, I learned of her travels in Senegal, Cuba and later Germany observing, photographing and drawing the people that she encountered. All of which would later find their way into her vivid, culturally and racially charged figurative and abstract work.
Cheryl spoke of her experiences in Senegal, and described the horror of Goree Island and “the door of no return” that led to the cold ocean. She spoke emotionally about the families with whom she spent time learning of their struggles and their strengths.
Once back in New York, she made a meaningful series based on this experience called The Return. “The paintings depicted scenes from slavery to modern Senegalese. I wanted to show the resiliency of these people.”
Her next series was based on dolls, predominantly Ndebele dolls of South Africa, used for ritual play, healing, courtship and role-playing. They made a strong impression on Cheryl because of the many ways dolls are used in different cultures.
At this point, paintings started appearing from all corners of the studio as Cheryl pulled out old and new pieces with abstract as well as strong, more obvious representational doll motifs. Cheryl is still using many of the doll motifs by deconstructing them into more abstract compositions based on color, shape and form. Yet there were other pieces that had parts of beehives gilded in gold as if they were an extension of a human soul. “These are mostly about humans reinventing ourselves on a more organic level.”
As Cheryl spoke about the importance of being kind and compassionate, the conversation led to the challenge of revealing her true self through her work. Like many artists, Cheryl likes to see the viewer’s reaction. “I am an observer and I like to observe people as they look at my work!”
I learned that Cheryl spent time in Cuba in 2014 where she was drawn to the idea of memory and identity.
“My observations were very private as I watched on a daily basis the people of Havana sing to their Orishas and make flower offerings to the Atlantic Ocean. When I came home, I immediately started researching elements of water as it related to memory and identity. It occurred to me that the relationship of water to identity is deeply rooted in our core as human beings.”
This was the start of a new series of “wet-on-wet” paintings on raw canvas based on water and identity. One can see how her stunning, free flowing water paintings are influenced by the powerful work of Sam Gilliam, Helen Frankenthaler and Mark Rothko.
Cheryl continued researching this topic in Stuttgart, Germany where she was inspired by a group of scientists conducting research and photographing water through microscopic lenses.
“New research has been developed from the Institute for Static and Dynamics for aerospace constructions of the University of Stuttgart in Germany supporting the theory that water has memory. And as such, water transfers data based upon the element of historical memories. My investigation is leading me to try and understand the extent that water is responsible for the memory of self-identities.”
Her intentions are to continue this study by looking at our DNA and the fact that we are all made up of 53% water, which she believes is our “core identity”. Possibly, it is a form of collective consciousness that we all share as it strengthens our unity and commitment to a fully functioning, more compassionate society.
Born in Miami Beach, Florida, Edwards has lived in Washington, D.C., for 23 years. She started her work in art in 1988 in New York City during a class at the Art Student League taught by the late Ernest Crichlow. Edwards has exhibited her work in a number of shows in the D.C. metro area as well as in New York, Virginia, Maryland, Florida and Hong Kong. She is currently represented by Galerie Susanne Junggeburth in Germany.
The Rachel M. Schlesinger Concert Hall and Arts Center will welcome regional artist Cheryl Edwards as she presents her latest art exhibit from March 3 to April 30. Edwards’ collection The Reverence of Water will be on display in the center’s Forum Gallery, and an artist’s reception is scheduled for 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, March 25, 2017.
To view and to purchase Cheryl’s work, go to http://cheryl-edwards.pixels.com/