By Krishna Adams, Director of Visual Arts, Craft, Media and Design –
Painter Elizabeth Edwards of Memphis, Tennessee, is a recipient of the FY24 Individual Artist Fellowship in 2D Visual Arts. The Tennessee Arts Commission awards Individual Artist Fellowships annually to recognize and acknowledge outstanding professional Tennessee artists who, through their work, add to the state’s cultural vitality.
Inspired and mentored by her father Larry Edwards, an artist and professor of painting at the University of Memphis, Beth Edwards is perhaps the only second-generation recipient of the Individual Artist Fellowship (I.A.F.) from the Tennessee Arts Commission. Picking up a paintbrush when she was 15 years old, Edwards began her journey as an artist. Through the years the content of her paintings has continued to transition from one series to another.
From domestic imagery taken from still lifes, and paintings of vintage dolls, to developing her interests in insects and birds, it’s only natural that Edwards would turn to the subject matter involving the world of plants and flowers.
Throughout 2013 Edwards worked on the Willow Park Mural for the City of Memphis. She consciously veered from her series of birds and insects to flowers during this installation. The current series of paintings reference a cross-section of a garden or a particular flower. In October of the same year, Edwards’ father passed away. The flowers she painted, especially the hydrangeas, represented her grief and loss. When painting hydrangea blooms, Edwards used a different color palette to help express her work as quieter and more meditative. Her first Hydrangea painting took 2-3 months to complete. After deeply focusing on depicting large-scale realistic hydrangea blooms, Edwards began shifting to brighter, more joyful paintings with realistic and detailed zinnia blooms.
“I am interested in the paintings being perceived in a way similar to a medieval manuscript or tapestry. The foliage is typically intricate, enmeshed, highly designed, and occupies a shallow space. I work to make all the elements contribute even if they are playing a peripheral role in the drama including the more abstracted background shapes. Each aspect of the flowers, foliage and negative space is invested with the same degree of involvement although as images they vary in their verisimilitude. The way in which they are paintings first, and believable images second is critical to my thinking about my work.” – Edwards
How does she highlight such remarkable detail in her paintings? She gathers inspiration from digital photos she takes in her yard and parks nearby. The images are then scanned into Photoshop and tweaked until Edwards is satisfied with the results. From this point, the image is projected onto a large canvas, where the magic begins. Edwards is a mixer; her paint colors do not come straight from the tube and onto the canvas. Instead, she is a master at mixing oil paint to find the exact hue she needs. With a bit of time coupled with her mixology expertise, she maneuvers warm and cool colors to allow for the precise color representation of the flowers and petals.
Edwards received a B.F.A. from Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia, PA, and an M.F.A. from Indiana University in Bloomington, IN. She also studied abroad in Rome, Italy. Solo exhibitions have been held at museums and galleries such as the Springfield Museum of Art in Springfield, OH; Huntsville Museum of Art in Huntsville, AL; St. Louis Community College in Saint Louis, MO; Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, LA; Mitchell Museum at Cedarhurst in Mt. Vernon, Illinois; Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond, KY; Second Street Gallery in Charlottesville, VA; Alma College in Alma, MI; Trumbull Art Gallery in Warren, OH; Hoyt Institute of Fine Arts in New Castle, PA; Miami Valley Arts Council Gallery in Dayton, OH; Rosewood Arts Center in Kettering, OH; Shippensburg State University in Shippensburg, PA; and the Northern Kentucky Arts Council and Carnegie Arts Center both in Covington, KY.
In Tennessee, her work has been shown in Nashville at the Leu Art Gallery at Belmont University, David Lusk Gallery, and the Tennessee Arts Commission Gallery. Edwards’ paintings in her hometown of Memphis have been on view at Rhodes College, Dixon Gallery, and Gardens, On The Street Gallery, The University of Memphis, and Crosstown Arts. Additionally, her work has been exhibited at Freed-Hardeman University in Henderson, and Union University in Jackson.
Paintings created by Edwards can be found in the collections of the Howard and Judith Tullman Collection in Chicago, IL; Huntsville Museum of Art in A.L., and in Tennessee collections such as the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, the Tennessee Arts Commission in Nashville, and the UrbanArts Commission, City of Memphis Movable Collection. Her work was included in New American Paintings (2001, 2004, and 2011) and twice featured on the cover. Additionally, she has been featured in the News Herald, The Commercial Appeal, Nashville Arts Magazine, Number 60 and 91, the Memphis Flyer, the Dayton Daily News, and Oxford American.
She has been a fellow at both the MacDowell and Yaddo artist colonies. Additionally, she received an Ohio Arts Council Individual Artist Fellowship before moving to Memphis. After moving, she received the ArtsMemphis Arts Accelerator Grant, and in 2016 she was the recipient of the Emmett O’Ryan Award for Artistic Inspiration, also given by ArtsMemphis.
Edwards began her teaching career at the University of Dayton in Dayton, Ohio where she instructed from 1987-1999. In 2000 Edwards moved to Tennessee and began working as a professor at the University of Memphis. In 2011 she received the Dean’s Creative Achievement Award from the University of Memphis; the next year she was recognized with the Alumni Association Distinguished Achievement in the Creative Arts Award. Then in 2017, she was honored with the Distinguished Teaching Award. After an extensive and esteemed teaching career, Edwards retired from the University of Memphis in 2021.
Excited about receiving the I.A.F. in 2D, Edwards plans to go big! She is planning to use the funds from the award to enlarge her painting canvases to six-by-six feet or larger. She also plans to spend some time in Europe to see art in person instead of online or through a book. When asked what advice she would give to up-and-coming painters, Edwards offered the following advice, “Painting is a difficult thing to do. Do it if you are compelled to do it, and you will find a way. You must be inventive. Be willing to work on other jobs so you can paint. Working as an artist takes real commitment.”