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With a mirror to his right, and a 48-inch by 30-inch canvas awaiting the first stroke of oil, Juneau painter Josh Edward worked on a self-portrait one day in his Fourth Street home on Star Hill. It was the first time he had ever stared at himself for hours. And as he continued to look - the face becoming less familiar and more foreign, as faces do under long scrutiny - two things stood out.
"I remember specifically noticing my ears, and feeling that I had never really gotten acquainted with them and being surprised by them," Edward said. "I think the challenge in any portrait is the eyes and the nose. My ears used to be the last thing to go in. They were really, for a long time, more suggestions than ears. Somebody told me, once, that they looked like coffee cup handles."
In "The Painter," the Best of Show selection in the upcoming Second Annual University of Alaska Southeast Student Juried Exhibition, Edward has made his ears look like ears.
Oil on canvas, "The Painter" was selected from 99 entries, including painting, drawing, printmaking, Northwest Coast carving, ceramics and mixed media. Guest juror Mark Daughhetee, the curator of exhibitions at the Alaska State Museum, selected 45 pieces for the show. It opens with a reception during First Friday at 4:30 p.m. Friday, April 2, at the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council gallery and runs through April.
This is the first year that the show has given awards. Another Edward painting, "Untitled," a dead Montana swallow in oil and mixed media on masonite, was one of three honorable mentions. Edward had one more painting, "Brad, Ace Hotel," selected for the show.
"I looked around the room, and his work seemed more mature than most of what was there," Daughhetee said. "He seemed in great control of the medium. I would say he's able to manipulate the paints more effectively than students often are."
Edward, 28, grew up in Billings, Mont., and hoped to pursue art. But he "got sidetracked" and graduated from the University of Utah with a degree in English. He moved to Juneau two years ago and works at AWARE as the delta coordinator, a domestic violence prevention program for adolescents. He used to work for REACH.
New to town, Edward took a course in intaglios, an artisan type of printmaking with copper zinc plates, at UAS. He began studying painting seriously about a year ago, when he enrolled in one of Jane Terzis' classes at UAS. Now finding he's at "a point in my life where I feel I have a little more time to pursue art," and is working toward an art degree.
"We have so much wrapped up in how we are seen, and of course, our artwork is one of the ways that we're seen," Terzis said. "That can really get in the way of the creative process."
"If he has any trepidations about it, he's somehow able to brush that off and approach painting in a really intimate and intuitive way," she said. "It's a very free way of painting, and even though he does use photographs that he's taken himself, he doesn't get stuck in the photograph. He allows the painting to inform where it wants to go and that's the key."
Edward began working from photographs, then moved into painting people he knows. Self-portraits seemed like the next step. He finished "The Painter" during his spring break from UAS. The painting lab was open and near-empty, two other students at most. He was able to work in relative solitude, with the freedom to study the piece from 25 feet away.
"The hardest part about a self-portrait is being objective about painting yourself," Edward said. "Jane is a great professor for helping people to really acquire a skill, and I feel like she's helped me get closer with each successive painting to where I wanted to be. The self-portrait was my first painting that was a real synthesis. I knew what techniques I used in the past, and I was free to fool around and paint some things very deliberately. The evidence is in the face. There's a lot of layers built up."
The scene in "The Painter" is barren. Edward rests in a chair, looking relaxed and anticipatory, but content, or sleepy, rather than anxious. Behind him, looms the bottom strip of a wall hanging. In the corner, a light burns a harsh glare into the wall. Is this the corner of a living room? Some sort of studio? What is the painter waiting for? Who is he? And is that important at all?
"If I looked at it, I would see certain kinds of restlessness and anticipation," Edward said. "But I think that's one of the things I like about it: the ambiguity."
"I don't think that all paintings have to have a narrative," he said. "I feel like people are as interesting and as fascinating and disturbing as any kind of story. There's so much tension, you don't need a tableau. I didn't want people who looked at the painting to feel like they needed to be distracted, or to ask, what's going on here? What's important in a painting is the figure."
Edward takes his cues from American painter Alice Neel (1900-1984) and German-born British painter Lucian Freud (1922), a grandson of Sigmund Freud. He admires their emphasis on the human body over story.
"I try to find a really fine balance between finished and unfinished in my paintings, and so I think that comes from utilizing a palette and finding color that you don't necessarily see in real life," he said. "I try to keep some of the rough edges of my work. I'm more interested in capturing moments, than I am to try and make something that looks like its polished to perfection."
Best of Show
Josh Edward, The Painter, oil on canvas; Honorable mention: Josh Edward, Untitled, oil & mixed media on masonite; Honorable mention: Wayne Painter, Tlingit Frog, yellow cedar; Honorable mention: Donna Griffin, Media and You, ink on paper.
Other selections: Jerry Smetzer, Black Woman Reading in a Blue Room; David W. Riccio, Mixed Fruit; Jacob Higgins, Untitled #1; Duffey, A Spring Memory; Charla Wright, Untitled; Marie Kirkman, Self-Portrait; Marie Kirkman, Canoe, Haines, Alaska; Marie Kirkman, Juneau Beach Bum; Lori Stenberg, Wetlands Reconsidered; Josh Edward, Brad, Ace Hotel; Misty Lee Haffner, Primula Susannah; Sara Gray, Tube One; Sara Gray, Self-Portrait; Karla Carrillo, My Brother's; Karla Carrillo, Spy Hopping, What You Don't See; Phyllice Bradner, Kitty Spirit Mask; Crystal B. Hegel, Shooting Star; Erin Ray Tilly, Pipes; Erin Ray Tilly, Weary Travelers; Teri Robus, Cosmopolitanism; Teri Robus, The Anguish of War; Mandy Lee, Destiny; Mandy Lee, Delirium; Mandy Lee, Despair; Chuck Taylor, Self-Portrait; Andy Grossman, Tigger; Andy Grossman, Glenn Frick; Susanne Mills, Uncle Fezter; Alexis Rippe, Cloudscape; Alexis Rippe, 3 a.m.; Lindsey Meyn, Blue Man; Wayne Painter, Wolf (Tlingit Style Halibut Hook); Wayne Painter, Sea Lion Canoe Bowl; Sandra Mander, Family Swim; Sandra Mander, Untitled; Lindsey Meyn, Objects; Gretchen Pence, Io; Gretchen Pence, Greek Key; Sue Deams, Petersburg, Circia 1954; Amy Soden, Untitled; Bradley N Ponack, Now Serving One.