Edna Andrade at Woodmere Art Museum

Andrade on the rocks


    What’s the difference between Edna Andrade’s art and a glass of champagne? Hers never goes flat.

    This stunning exhibition of 57 drawings and paintings from 1953 until 2002 radiates vitality. As organized by W. Douglass Paschall, Woodmere’s curator of collections, and accompanied by an excellent, illustrated catalogue with an essay by Paschall, it is lively, challenging and fun.

    You look at Andrade’s designs, colors and images and feel as if, somehow, the music of the spheres has changed to an upbeat tempo. She introduces you to patterns you never noticed before, finding them in nature, in colors and in all the forms that create our world. You feel as if your eyes have been opened to a new universe.

    Andrade is 90 now and has been creating this magic since her student days at Pennsylvania Academy. She won two Cresson Travel Fellowships and eventually returned to a life of art in Philadelphia. While a student at the Academy, Andrade’s art was figurative, but two trips to Europe, exposure to the Bauhaus concepts and contact with all the postwar artists changed that. Yet even her early landscapes demonstrated an unusual interest in the patterns of the waves, mountains and veining of the rocks. Andrade has always been on a quest to discover what constitutes the world around us.

    Andrade explored the interaction of contrasting and complementary colors, geometrical forms and repeating patterns during these decades. Yes, all the definitive labels of Op Art, Geometric Abstraction and Conceptual Art apply. But her work transcends those boundaries. In this retrospective exhibition of works loosely defined as drawings, she has explored new ways of seeing. Using collage, watercolors, gouache, charcoal, acrylics and oil paints, Andrade makes us aware of the inherent structure of everything in the universe. They are not about anything or anyone; they are about the world we inhabit.

Patterns in nature

    Breaking Wave (watercolor on paper) and Pinnacles (gouache on green paper) were my two favorites from her early work in the ‘50s. Here one can already see her interest in patterns in nature, in surging waves or vertical, rock cliffs. Space Frame D (1966-67, oil on canvas) is a startling creation of spatial entities formed from triangles and bars in gray, black and white. Like Sol LeWitt’s designs, this work would have been sensational painted in a large scale on the walls of a gallery. Her smaller drawing study for it indicates that it is powerful, whatever the scale.

    Ahmet Hello (1967, oil on linen) is pure Op Art, creating retinal after-images that move in a staccato beat. Take a few minutes to savor it. All these works were either new to me— or seemed so in this context.

Depth, mystery and serenity

    Then we come to a work I’ve known and loved for decades. In my mind, I’ve always thought of it as Starry Night but officially it is Untitled (1980, acrylic on canvas), with horizontal rows of narrow, angled lines radiating from central points of color as if stars illuminating the night sky. The pattern creates curves in wave formations. There is depth and mystery. It is a painting to inspire quiet meditation and serenity.

    By the ‘90s, Andrade was investigating visual patterns of the rocky seacoast of Maine. Her colorful, two-dimensional designs morphed into landscapes with solid geometrical forms becoming architectural symbols. Moonlight (1992) is a fascinating view across a body of water to distant cubes of colorful buildings and an evening sky at dusk when the sun is setting and the moon is rising and/or purely decorative circles of varying sizes and colors against a pale background. Using acrylics, watercolor, and wax rubbing on mulberry paper collaged on paper, Andrade has successfully integrated all the stylistic components of that era.

Rocks as commanding presences

    Her close studies of rocks, their structures and surfaces, seem rooted in eternity. Mostly working in graphite, sometimes supplemented with acrylics or watercolors, Andrade created massive, solid shapes that are commanding presences. Pinnacle (2001-02) demands your attention and respect. It’s like an altar to nature: At 72 1/2 inches high x 42 ½ inches wide, of graphite on acrylic-primed canvas, the rocks reach up into the sky, supporting each other, creating a bulwark against time.

    Andrade becomes more important in the history of art with each decade. There is an increasing recognition of her individual contribution to the latter half of the 20th Century and her influence in this century. Another new exhibition— Post Painterly Abstraction, a group show that includes Andrade— will open at the Locks Gallery on May l until May 30, examining works from the generation after Abstract Expressionism when linear clarity became primary.

    An artist for all decades, Andrade never sacrificed her own identity to become one of the herd. She embraced current trends, endowing each with her own vision.

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