Remembering Edwina Brennan: “First, I Make a Mark.”
What can I say about Edwina Brennan (or “Eddie” to all who knew her)? She was a no-nonsense purveyor of her ideas, and her artworks are as complex, deep, and astounding as she was. She was a fair fellow who I will miss.
I first met Eddie as a member of Muse Gallery in Philadelphia. She had recently had an exhibition of what she called her “bicycle paintings”. These paintings are not so much of bicycles or parts of bicycles, but of the movement of bicycles-- the round twirling of the wheels, the action through space. These were powerful and evocative works full of line, color, and light – all of these elements working together. Like most of her pieces they occupy a space that is difficult to categorize as either “drawings” or “paintings”. I really enjoyed this about them, and I got to delve into this aspect of her work shortly after seeing this exhibition, while I was assisting in writing her artist statement.
When I assist with artist statements, I always start with a simple question: “Well, what do you do?”. Eddie’s answer was simple, direct, and focused on the doing. She said, “First, I make a mark.” This has always been one of my favorite perspectives. She approached creation boldly, directly, and with intent.
Once she told me that she liked to use black -- not because it was dark or sad but as a contrast to the colors -- a vibrancy between dark and light. For Eddie, black meant strength -- a bold delineator giving perspective.
On the surface, our artwork seems quite different, but we always found that we had much in common. Both of us were graduates from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Edwina had studied with Lou Sloan, Jimmy Lueders, and Bruce Samuelson. She recalled the helpfulness of the critiques on color by Jimmy Lueders, the instruction on paint application (especially by palette knife) by Lou Sloan, and the introduction to gestural drawing by Bruce Samuelson. I wasn’t lucky enough to have gotten to know either Lou Sloan or Jimmy Lueders, but Bruce Samuelson had been one of my MFA advisers, and we agreed that the Academy really did know how to train artists!
But our commonalities were more than just the construct of our training. We also had a mutual appreciation for artists like Cy Twombly and Joan Mitchell with all those great arcs of the brush or the crayon’s glide across a surface, the buildup of materials, the scraping away, the slathers from the palette knife. We both loved how all these made the textures of an active revolution.
Even as an art revolutionary Edwina Brennan was also a member and contributor to many art organizations. Together with her friend Mary Kane, she served as past co-presidents of Philadelphia Artist Equity. She was a member of ARTsisters and 3rd Street Gallery in Philadelphia. She had shown her artwork at the Barnes Foundation Museum and the Delaware Contemporary Art Museum. Presently, Eddie’s most recent artworks are being exhibited at Pagus Gallery in Norristown, PA in the building where she maintained a studio for over 20 years. The show, titled “Unfinished Business”, is scheduled to be on view through July 7th.
Edwina Brennan had such energy and physicality, and you could see it all in her work. I am sad to feel such a loss, and it is this energy that I will most miss. I do take comfort, though, that I – like you – can be reminded, inspired and comforted by finding Eddie’s best qualities (of which she had many) by viewing, inspecting and meditating on her works.
But let me let all of you get to know the artist Edwina Brennan through this lovely short film by John Thornton that occurred in concert to her exhibition “Adventure in Color” at 3rd Street Gallery.