Works (from left to right):
The Way It Is, 1992
Because of Struggle, 1992
Festac 77 Lagos Reunion, 1985
Siempre Gilberto de la Nuez, 1994
Nite Work, 2012
North and East, 1992
Weapon of Freedom, 1986
Freedom Weapon Variant, 1986–1992
Double Info, 1984
Melvin Edwards is one of the most accomplished artists of his generation, and one of the most fascinating sculptors working today. Very early in his career, Edwards was attracted to the ruggedness and malleability of steel, departing from a previous interest in painting. His paintings were concerned with volume and form, such that sculpture was a logical next step, and, perhaps, a reflection of his longstanding interest in the aesthetic formalities of Renaissance art. His relief sculptures are striking yet unpretentious, and range from the angular, asymmetrical, elegiac, and geometric, to the formally complex. Although his sculptural approach is mostly expressed in welding, the resulting mangled and contorted forms appear to have been molded. Edwards’s unique language of abstraction— breaking down and recomposing material form in that robust search for a certain vitality and meaning—is at once terse and eloquent, what one critic has described as “formal simplicity and solid materiality.” His subject matter has included universal human issues, including civil rights, human dignity, and social equality, which he grounds in specific histories and contexts such as the black experience in the United States and Africa, among others.
Edwards’s extensive exhibition history, beginning with his first solo exhibition at the Santa Barbara, California, Museum of Art in 1965, marked him as someone with a distinct sculptural voice and destined for success. From 1972 until his retirement in 2002, he taught at some of the leading art programs in the United States, complementing his studio practice and training several generations of artists. In addition to his studio work, Edwards has created public art both in the United States and internationally in an attempt to engage a broader public audience, beyond that of the art world. His career is punctuated by critical highlights that parallel historical moments in American history as well as global black history.
Edwards began his longstanding and iconic Lynch Fragments series in 1963, a project that was initially inspired by racial violence and civil rights demands in the United States. Divided into three phases of the 1960s, 1970s, and post-1970s, the series includes works motivated by his activism against the Vietnam War in the early 1970s, those that honor longstanding cultural traditions of Africa and the African diaspora, and others that pay homage to such notable black persons as the late French Guianese poet and politician Leon Gontran Damas, whom Edwards had befriended.
At the Biennale di Venezia, Edwards presents Igun Hammer (1981), Freedom Weapon Variant (1986–1992), September Portion (1991), and Texas Tales (1992). These works mirror the long trajectory of his career and, more importantly, his capacious creative energy, aesthetic ethos, and wide-ranging interests.