The French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard once said “Art attracts us only by what it reveals of our most secret self” and these words decidedly embody the essence of what makes Saginaw native and visiting artist Edwina Jaques such an engaging and intriguing artist to profile.
A multi and mixed media tour-de'force, Jaques possesses a special gift for capturing distinct portraits of dynamic individuals in medium ranging from watercolor and oil to sculpture and mosaics; and her work is being featured during the Art & Sol Celebration at both the Saginaw Art Museum and The Saginaw Castle Museum in an exceptional commissioned exhibition focusing on Great Lakes Bay Women that will celebrate 100 regional women in paintings, drawings and sculpture that were chosen by the artist to illuminate their qualities to the region and its future.
Jaques forte is people - meeting them, learning about them, and translating their stories into her own expressively distinctive work. Born in Saginaw she received her Master of Fine Arts from the University of Michigan, became a lecturer and after being awarded a Rackham grant, departed for England where she resided for many years working as a professional artist in mixed media sculpture, painting and jewelry. Working within various communities and subcultures in both America and the UK, she cut her teeth creating public sculpture. And with this latest exhibition of Great Lakes Bay Women, she has even branched into writing by issuing a book entitled Great Lakes Bay Women that amplifies her work by delving into the defining character and spirit of the women featured in her exhibition.
While her work can be generalized as multimedia, in her life-size sculptures she works in wood and fiberglass and has pioneered the use of polymer clay that she uses for heads and appendages, adding details with textiles, knot-work, mosaic and clay beads.
Her work will be on display from October 1 - December 31st and an opening reception will be held on Tuesday, October 1st at the Castle Museum from 5-6:30 PM and then at The Saginaw Art Museum from 6-8:30 PM with live music by featured subject Sharrie Williams, complimentary cocktails and hors d'oeurvres at both locations.
Recently I had the pleasure of sitting down with Jaques at length to glean my own insights into this truly exceptional and extraordinary woman, artist, and creative force.
Review: What initially inspired your interest in art and what are the key objectives that you strive to achieve with your work?
Jaques: I wanted to be an artist since the age of 10. I was also born with a congenital birth defect and wasn't supposed to live past the age of 18, so that profoundly affected my outlook in life. What it did was make me live each day and look past surfaces into the importance of things. At the age of 12 I had an operation at the University of Michigan hospital that was successful, so every day past the age of 18 I viewed as a gift.
My interest in art has been two-phased. I'm eternally fascinated with people and their ingenuity and ideas and what makes them tick. That kept leading me on and the more I learned of others the more I learned about myself. The reason I look at people and cultures is to better understand myself. I've learned we can't save the whole world but we can save ourselves; so on a one-to-one basis we start to change things. If more of us get out of our comfort zone and meet people that might appear foreign to us, we are less likely to harm or hate them.
I travel a lot and started working with different groups about 20 years ago. I worked with the Romany in Britain and made a lot of good friends and displayed my work at the Rochester cathedral in Kent, which was a wonderful venue. Ever since I was a little girl I held a fascination for gypsies. Parents often would warn me that they would steal children, but I packed a huge bag of food and my dog and I went in search of gypsies. I didn't tell my mother about this but walked and walked and didn't see any; and when I got home the police were at home. That was my first foray into other cultures, but I've always been a wanderer.
Ever since I've actively searched out people such as the Apache Indians. I visited their reservation and worked with abused fetal alcohol children. They don't have many outsiders coming in and still harbor a fear of Geronimo after all this time. Life is very tough for their families and because of prejudice that still exists, they don't meet a lot of people from the outside and are very insular. Frankly, I'm surprised at the amount of prejudice that exists in New Mexico about the Apache, which is probably one of the more liberal states in the union.
When I came back to this region I contacted the Chippewa tribe to be a part of my new work and the assistant director thanked me for including them. She said nobody asks us to do anything and we are not included in things. They've done better because of the casinos, which have allowed them to have money, but they are still isolated, as are the Indians in New Mexico. So to answer your question, I'm interested in groups like this. I like to interact with their environment. The same is true with the people in Wales that I've worked with. The English pushed the Celts back, as were the Scots; and people don't often realize they speak two separate languages in Wales.
Review: How would you classify your work?
Jaques: It is very Mixed Media and I work with sculpture, painting, and jewelry design, partly out of survival. Unless you are fortunate to make it big time in the art world, which hinges largely on luck; you've got to learn to do lots of different things. As a jeweler I work with a clothing company in London doing collections of jewelry to go with their new clothing lines twice a year; and with painting I work in watercolor and oil. I use Griffin paints with oil because they dry quickly and I want them to dry fast so I can move on to the next bit. Sculpture is in the blood for me and I don't favor one media over the other. I love color and am also into mosaics - whatever suits the subject matter.
For this Art & Sol exhibition of 100 Women of the Great Lakes Bay that will be featured at The Castle Museum and The Saginaw Art Museum I started with 20 women and thought it would be difficult to find that many women that were distinct with their accomplishments, but the show quickly grew to me working up pieces on 100 women. This area has produced some extraordinary women and a lot of them.
Something magical happened as I started on this show. I would be on computer at 3 AM researching women and then new faces would pop up. I found one woman - Sharrie Williams - who will be singing for the opening. I was not aware of her, but she is amazing and probably better known in Europe than she is here. And this would happen time and again as I was developing this exhibition. Much like life the deeper you dig one thing leads to another.
Review: Do you see an arc or progression to your work as it evolves over the years?
Jaques: Very much so. A mentor of mine at the University of Michigan once said the remarkable thing about my work is that even though the media I work in has changed my work itself is immediately identifiable. I have a style coming through that I want to constantly improve upon and evolve. But with each painting I learn a little bit more. Sometimes I will work and idea and pull back from it. Years ago I tried attempting 3-dimensional pieces on canvas with painting and liked it, but was not confident enough about it. Now there is a lot of that in this exhibition.
With sculpture part of it is engineering that involves lots of problem solving. I've never worked with wood before like I did in this exhibition, so taking it apart down in Florida so I could ship it up here and putting it back together again has been a challenge. Even though I was very careful to keep all the screws and bases oriented, it's very hot and humid in Florida and the weather can warp the wood, so sometimes when I went to reassemble them, the holes didn't marry up. But things are falling together nicely.
With portraits and people my interest is in the soul of a person. I'm not interested in making a replica of somebody as opposed to getting into whom they are inside. A photo can show you what they look like, but I want to go beyond that. This has always been my aim.
Review: What do feel is the most challenging obstacle you face as an artist?
Jaques: It's always what I'm working on right now because that is what excites you the most as an artist. Things in the past you've already accomplished. Two years ago I did a five-piece sculpture for a community in Kent and had the contractor put in a concrete foundation. But some local guys got out of a football game and knocked everything down and because the cement hadn't solidified, the whole lot went down, which meant I had to do mosaics in the middle of the worst winter that we had. But I finished it on the Chinese New Year in February and was very proud of that collection.
Honestly, this 100 women exhibition has been the biggest challenge, because I wrote a book to go along with it. I haven't done anything quite like this before and it involved a tremendous amount of research because sometimes there was little information available on these women. This has been going on for 3 years and I've had about 5 hours of sleep per night for the last year and a half.
It's been a pretty monumental undertaking pulling this exhibition all together. But all the women featured deserve it. We have the first woman to go over the Niagara Falls, Madonna is featured, Serena Williams the tennis star, pioneer farmers that taught other women to read and write, a nurse who's grandmother was a slave and not allowed to receive her diploma with other nurses, the list goes on. I tried to be as diverse as I could with the book and exhibition and pick up as many groups and cultures of people as I could find. There are many women you would not expect to be featured that are included, so I am very proud of this accomplishment.
Review: Are there any specific artists that have inspired you and your work over the years?
Jaques: Oh yes - the Egyptian civilization always fascinated me as a little girl. The first thing I sculpted was a huge pyramid as a little kid and I've always been enamored of that civilization. Later on I became engaged by Gaugin who was a very interesting man; and then I got into Degas for his sophistication and Stubbs for his horses and people. In high school my heroes were Michelangelo and DaVinci, who were very formative for me. These artists inspired me to start doing very realistic work with sculpture. But basically, I am very eclectic in my tastes and I trust that eclecticism shines through to reveal the true essence of my subjects.