Mel Edwards

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Melvin Edwards
Melvin Eugene Edwards, Jr.

(1937-05-04) May 4, 1937 (age 82)
Alma materUniversity of Southern California
Known forDrawing, printmaking, sculpture
Spouse(s)Jayne Cortez, m. 1976–2012 (her death)
WebsiteOfficial website

Mel Edwards (born May 4, 1937)[1] is a celebrated abstract steel metal sculptor, based in New York City. He has had more than a dozen one-person show exhibits and been in over four dozen group shows.[2] He has had solo exhibitions at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the New Jersey State Museum, Trenton, New Jersey. His works, characterised by the use of straight-edged triangular and rectilinear forms, often have a political content.[1]


Melvin Eugene Edwards, Jr., was born in Houston, Texas, the eldest of his parents' four children. He was introduced to abstract art in high school, which inspired him to pursue art.[3] Edwards is a graduate of the University of Southern California[1] and also studied at Los Angeles City College, and the Los Angeles County Art Institute.

In 1964, he began teaching at San Bernardino Valley College. He went on to teach at the Chouinard Art Institute[4] (now the California Institute of the Arts), the Orange County Community College in New York, and the University of Connecticut. His first one-person exhibition was held at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara, California, in 1965. In 1972 he began teaching at Rutgers University, where he taught classes in sculpture, drawing and Third World artists until his retirement from the school in 2002. In 1975 he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship.[5]

In 1976, Edwards married the poet Jayne Cortez.[6]

While he was teaching, he received two sequential Fulbright Fellowships, which afforded him the opportunity to travel. Edwards' research into Third World visual culture has taken him to Morocco, Brazil, China, Cuba, and Nigeria. He draws his inspiration from his ancestral home, Africa, where he currently spends several months each year working as a sculptor in Senegal. He is a resident of New York City, and is represented by Alexander Gray Associates, a contemporary art gallery located in New York City.


Edwards’ work became widely accepted after he created "Some Bright Morning" in 1963. This piece started a continuous line of work called Lynch Fragments.[7] which now has more that 200 pieces in the series. Inspired by the Civil Rights Movement, due to beginning his art career during the peak of the movement in the 1960s, these small-scale welded metal wall reliefs were developed in three periods: 1963 to 1967, 1973 to 1974, and 1978 to the present. Edwards believes the series is metaphorical of the struggles experienced by African Americans.[8] A variety of metal objects including hammer heads, scissors, locks, chains and railroad splices, are employed as the raw materials for these works. The sculptures, usually no more than a foot tall, are hung on the wall at eye level. One critic noted "their brutish power conjures the instruments used to subjugate African Americans during centuries of slavery and oppression." Edwards is also known for his large public sculpture, smaller freestanding works, the kinetic "Rockers" series, and works executed in the medium of printmaking. His large-scale works include "Mt. Vernon", "Homage to Billie Holiday and the Young Ones at Soweto" (1977, Morgan State University, Baltimore, MD) and "Breaking of the Chains" (1995, San Diego, CA).[9]

Edwards has exhibited widely in the US as well as in Africa and Europe. Recent solo exhibitions in 2014 included at the Galerie Anne de Villepoix in Paris, France,[10][11] and at the Stephen Friedman Gallery in London, UK.[12][13] Several of his works are in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, the Houston Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. His work is also represented in the Studio Museum in Harlem, Brooklyn Museum of Art, Alfond Collection of Contemporary Art at Rollins College, Cornell Fine Arts Museum, and the Mott-Warsh Collection in Flint, MI, among other places.[14]

In 2012, his work appeared at MOMA PS-1.[15]

A 30-year retrospective of his sculpture was held in 1993 at the Neuberger Museum of Art in Purchase, New York.[16]

A 50-year retrospective of his work, entitled Melvin Edwards: Five Decades, opened at the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas, Texas, on January 31, 2015, on view until May 10, 2015.[17][18] The exhibition also toured to the Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University.[19][20]

Edwards' works were featured in Art Basel Miami Beach 2015.[21][22]

Awards and honors[edit]

Awards that Edwards has received include a Fulbright Fellowship to Zimbabwe, and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts. In 1992, he was elected into the National Academy of Design as an Associate member, and became a full Academician in 1994.

He received an Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design on May 23, 2014.[23]

He is the subject of a documentary film by Lydie Diakhaté, entitled Some Bright Morning: The Art of Melvin Edwards, released in 2016.[24]


  1. ^ a b c Samella S. Lewis, African American Art and Artists, University of California Press, 2003, p. 210. ISBN 0-520-23935-0
  2. ^ Biography Archived February 16, 2015, at the Wayback Machine, Melvin Edwards website.
  3. ^ "Retrospective", Melvin Edwards website.
  4. ^ YouTube Video, "Mel Edwards (Part 1)".
  5. ^ Fellows Archived January 14, 2014, at the Wayback Machine, The John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.
  6. ^ Encyclopedia of African American Women Writers, vol. 1, p. 121.
  7. ^ "Premonition" Archived January 15, 2014, at the Wayback Machine (Part of the Lynch Fragment Series), Birmingham Museum of Art.
  8. ^ Birmingham Museum of Art: Guide to the Collection. Birmingham, Ala: Birmingham Museum of Art. 2010. p. 254. ISBN 978-1-904832-77-5.
  9. ^ "Mel Edwards & Jayne Cortez, Visual/Verbal Dialogue, University of Delaware", Association for Critical Race Art History (ACRAH), 2011.
  10. ^ "Melvin Edwards", Galerie Anne de Villepoix.
  11. ^ "Melvin Edwards", Slash.
  12. ^ "Stephen Friedman Gallery: Melvin Edwards", Artnet.
  13. ^ "Melvin Edwards" Archived February 11, 2015, at the Wayback Machine, Stephen Friedman Gallery.
  14. ^ "Melvin Edwards", Alexander Gray Associates.
  15. ^ Kino, Carol (October 17, 2012). "The Sculptor Melvin Edwards Prepares for 'Now Dig This!'". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved February 22, 2016.
  16. ^ Lucinda H. Gedeon; Melvin Edwards; Melvin Edwards sculpture : a thirty-year retrospective, 1963–1993, Neuberger Museum of Art, State University of New York at Purchase; Seattle: distributed by the University of Washington Press, 1993. World Cat.
  17. ^ Jerome Weeks, "Melvin Edwards At The Nasher: Man of Steel", Art & Seek, January 31, 2015.
  18. ^ Lance Esplund, "Review of ‘Melvin Edwards: Five Decades’ at the Nasher Sculpture Center", The Wall Street Journal, March 31, 2015.
  19. ^ Patti Verbanas, "Melvin Edwards: Five Decades", Rutgers Today, September 18, 2015.
  20. ^ "First Melvin Edwards Retrospective in 20 Years Opens September 1", Zimmerli Art Museum, Rutgers, July 20, 2015.
  21. ^ "Art Basel Miami Beach: exhibition at Collins Park" Archived December 1, 2015, at the Wayback Machine, e-flux.
  22. ^ Siobhan Morrissey, "Art Basel Week 2015 guide: Public and free, in 3D", Miami Herald, November 27, 2015.
  23. ^ "Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts: Melvin Edwards" Archived May 23, 2014, at the Wayback Machine, Commencement Honorees 2014, Massachusetts College of Art and Design.
  24. ^ "Some Bright Morning: The Art Of Melvin Edwards" at African Film Festival, New York, 2016.

External links[edit]