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Abstract painter used his art for activism

Posted at 11:24 AM, Feb 19, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-20 14:00:16-05

As our celebration of Bllack History Month continues we're taking the time to appreciate one of the many contributors of abstract art-As Greg Wiley Edwards, an arts activist tells 23ABC’s Kristin Vartan, “official arts people” once told him that Black art was not a thing. From his experience, he knew that was not the case. For Edwards, his background in art all began in the City of Angels.

“I just happened to land in Los Angeles during a renaissance,” Edwards said.

Edwards went from a segregated childhood in Houston to Los Angeles in the ‘60s, when the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had just passed. It was the season of change.

“There was the aspect of the hippies that were at my school, there was the aspect of African-American embracing the Civil Rights movement, some were embracing the Black power movement, but I was also getting all of that at home,” Edwards said.

He came to Crenshaw as an athlete, but the art world became his scene. Edwards’ friends were famous session players in Hollywood. His brother is a sculptor. Whenever Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali were in town, they'd make sure to hear them speak.

“I began to believe in possibilities that i had never believed in before. So when I started making art, I knew that I was supposed to come up with my own techniques, my own vision. I had to prove to myself if I had something to say,” Edwards said. I started using drawings using the technique of stipple. Which means you have to slow down, all the way down.”

After finding his artistic voice with the mentorship of Matsumi Kanemitsu and Emerson Woelffer, Edwards channeled it into activism, creating the Black Seminar at CalArts. He brought Charles White, James Earl Jones and Charles Lloyd as class speakers.

“It was a small, not a very well-established class. It didn’t have the budget or funding other people [had], but with artists of that stature, it did not matter,” Edwards said. “When they heard there was an African-American wood carver, every sculpture in the building was there. I mean, they were there, packed to the guild.”

Edwards’ art, like others in the Quinn Family Collection at the Bakersfield Museum of Art, (including a Basquiat) have also drawn fans.

“We’ve seen some of our highest numbers for visitorship, in fact that’s why we extended this exhibition,” Amy Smith, Director of the Bakersfield Museum of Art said. “These last few months that we’ve had this exhibition up, we’ve at least a 25 percent uptick. I don’t know if that’s covid related, or because of the collection. Probably a combination of both. But we’ll take it!”

We here at 23ABC want to celebrate Black art beyond Black History Month. That’s why we were excited to hear that the museum’s upcoming exhibition is “Personal to Political: Celebrating the African-American Artist of Paulson Fontaine Press. That opens on April 28th.