Sylvia Edwards: Biography

Sylvia Edwards is an internationally acclaimed and very popular artist who established her reputation with brilliantly colored and imaginative watercolors. Her creative ideas reach an ever-increasing audience of adults and children through her best-selling prints, posters and UNICEF cards.

The hallmark of Sylvia Edwards' work and perhaps its most appealing characteristic is it's delightful imagery. Her humor is lighthearted and optimistic. But there is another side to her artistic personality that gives a serious and deeply reflective dimension to her painterly conception. The enjoyment she derives from the craft of painting is infectious and the vision she projects is life-enhancing, at once instantly recognizable and unique to her.

photo: Roberto Leone text: Judith Bumpus


No-one would ever dream of associating optimism, "joie de vivre", or faith in mankind with Samuel Beckett: it may seem illogical therefore to try and find compatibility between his and Sylvia Edward's ways of thinking. Sylvia is a North American painter whose works have a magical quality that mingles with a scrupulous adherence to the traditional values of the old masters. Sometimes these "values" may be expressed metaphorically by the application of pure gold leaf, or lay half hidden like the jealous thoughts of a loved one. One may go further and say that Edwards' openness has led her to a positive and generous attitude towards life.

That is why any affinity between her and Beckett may seem odd, whereas in my mind it explains Sylvia's equilibrium both in her person, and in her paintings, as a counterweight to her spirit and exuberance. It also explains the intellectual structure of her work in painting, drawing, graphics and mosaic, as well as that facility-felicity which is evident throughout her work. I am not referring only to her research into those branches of the visual arts, but also to her way of looking into herself, through her memories imbued with images of the countries where she has lived, from pre-Khomeini Iran to Switzerland and now Great Britain.

At present Edwards lives in London, in a period building which echoes the tradition of her birthplace, Boston. Her windows look onto a wide square, with gardens well protected by reassuring cast iron fences, thick with layers upon layers of paint which smooth the reliefs of the bars and flatten their elaborate castings. Once I surprised myself thinking that whilst walking in such places one may at any time run into a mirror, pass through and meet beyond its surface, whales who can speak, trees which have eyes and can think. And, with a bit of luck, also find, on moonlit nights, rotten leaves which turn to pure gold on the way home.

I feel that this part of London - indeed maybe London itself - has had, and still has, a profound influence on Sylvia Edwards; but if I'm wrong, at least it has not suffocated her marvellous inability to abandon her spontaneity at any time. This is also her strength (which may not be immediately evident even to herself) and becomes already apparent from her early, lovingly crafted paintings, mainly on paper watercolour being her favourite medium, with pastel coming next. I refer, for instance, to Sylvia's Alpine landscapes, painted when she lived in Switzerland.

Even her later, purely abstract works, and their elaborately programmed developments, confirm her genuine longing for truthfulness. A close study of Edwards' works would show her emotions about nature as epitomised by the Persian deserts and mountains which she painted whilst living in Tehran. The human figure was brought into prominence much later, only to be absorbed by the geometrical rhythms which the artist conceived as an opposing factor.

Soon this geometry - which never lacked an element of lyricism - collapsed: it was a phase defined by the artist as the "undoing of the square", a metaphor for her irresistible longing for freedom. But this will be mentioned later on. A new impulse to Sylvia's art came later with an extraordinary opening up to decoration (a dangerously ambiguous word in art), which in my mind shows remarkable daring. Again, one must not forget that she lived in the Middle East, where there is no difference between decorative art and pure art. This is a fact which must be mentioned, to fully understand the dialogue with herself, which gives rationality to Edwards' impulses. Together with her artwork, she occasionally writes reviews for art magazines, and one can imagine what sort of play the combination of these facts can give.

Sylvia Edwards approached art through the lessons for children at the Boston Museum's School of Fine Arts. When still in her native city, she studied at the Massachussetts College of Arts, leaving to begin a never ending renewal of her experiences gained in contrasting worlds and remote cultures. Painting was then an uninterrupted motif, and she began exhibiting some twelve years ago and developed smoothly and evenly in Switzerland, London, USA, Egypt, and Paris. Her works of art have been accepted into public collections in the USA, Europe, and Africa, have been reprinted by the million for UNICEF, and made into posters by the leading British publisher in this field.

text: Ennio Pouchard

Please note the images above are of earlier work and unavailable for purchase.

Other articles: The Undoing of the Square: The Recent Work of Sylvia Edwards, by Mel Gooding