From the very beginning, when Edgar Ewing came out of the Art Institute of
Chicago, reviewers said he seemed to paint in two or three different styles.
Half a century later, they’re saying the same thing.
It doesn’t bother the artist that his work confounds people. In fact, he seems to
rather delight in it.
“There are different meanings [in my work] for different people. It’s never quite
clear. There’s a little bit of obfuscation in my paintings, but that’s the way I
want it,” Ewing said.
The artist and USC professor emeritus will envelope the Fisher Gallery with his
own brand of confusion when the exhibit, “Edgar Ewing: The Classical Connection,
Recent Work 1983-1993,” opens on Dec. 14. The collection of more than 80
drawings, sculpture and paintings in oils, acrylics and gesso is the first major
showing of Ewing’s work in 15 years.
“I’m greatly honored to have the exhibition at USC,” Ewing said.
Ewing is best known for his more than 30 series of paintings on such subjects as
Bryce Canyon, Las Vegas, the Rose Parade and, most extensively, Greece. In the
late 1950s Ewing turned to modern and classical Grecian themes, beginning with
the Acropolis series and continuing with the Greek Wedding and Meteora series.
Ewing taught in the schools of Architecture and Fine Arts for 32 years before his
retirement in 1978, and received the university’s Distinguished Professor
Emeritus Award in 1987.
“He has made long and continuous contributions to USC and he is a wonderful
artist,” said Selma Holo, director of the Fisher Gallery. “I think it is
incumbent upon us to honor our own when they are as deserving as is Edgar Ewing.”
The Fisher exhibit is curated by Ewing’s longtime USC colleague, Max F. Schulz.
Schulz is a professor emeritus of English who chaired his department for a dozen
years. For the past three years he has been on half-time retirement and now, at
age 70, he is completing an internship requirement for the School of Fine Arts’
Graduate Program in Museum Studies.
It’s never too late for a career change.
“I decided to correct an error in career choice I made 40 years ago when I could
have gone into either art or literary history,” said Schulz.
The English professor first became interested in art while growing up in
Pittsburgh. He attended Saturday-morning art classes at the Carnegie Institute
but, after receiving no encouragement, decided he couldn’t draw.
When, after World War II, he faced a decision about graduate school, Schulz said,
his choice hinged on whether English literature or art history had the better
program. Literature won out, setting his life course.
But when retirement approached, Schulz saw his opportunity to return to his first
love and begin a second career.
After all, he’d spent his life haunting art museums and reading art books, and he
had included art in the interdisciplinary courses he taught. “The Museum Studies
Program accepted me even though I’ve never had a course in art,” he said
As curator of the Ewing show, Schulz was responsible for selecting the pieces to
be exhibited. And there were hundreds to choose from. “Even though Ewing is 80,
he’s very productive,” Schulz said.
Ewing still works in a cubist-abstract style, Schultz said, but his works in the
last decade “show changes in colorings. Now he’s using much more highly keyed
pastel colors. And his most recent series have fragments of canvas showing.”
Another change in the artist’s style has to do with the thickness of his
application of paint. Earlier canvases in the series are heavily impasted,
Schultz said, while his more recent ones use washes.
Despite his changes in style, Ewing still follows his own best advice: paint what
you think you see, paint what you know about what you think you have seen, and
paint a metaphor of what you think you know about what you have seen.
In addition to the paintings, Schulz has chosen “a dozen little bronzes” for the
show, as well as a collection of limestone sculptures. Ewing’s sculpture is known
for its humor and commentary on human nature.
Several USC faculty members count themselves fortunate to have Ewings in their
Joan Schaefer, dean emeritus of women, still cherishes a painting from the
Meteora series presented to her 30 years ago by the Associated Women Students.
The Meteora is “that section of Greece where rocks come out of a flatness. The
painting pulls you up. You are looking into the depths of the caverns of life.
That is an eternal concept,” Schaefer said.
Ewing and his Greek-born wife of 52 years, Suzanna, are planning to move back to
the United States permanently. The air pollution in Athens, where Ewing has a
studio, has become too oppressive, he said.
The artist has used the subject of the smog in his work to tweak the Grecian
authorities. Included in the exhibit is Spark Plug Caryatids, a 1977 painting
from the Homage to Picabia series that comments wryly on the polution.
“It’s a painting of a suggestion I made to the director general of the Ministry
of Culture,” Ewing said. “The Caryatids are the four ladies standing in the front
of a temple. The minister was complaining about how the fumes from the
automobiles on the highway near the base of the Acropolis were destroying the
Caryatids. I told him, ‘I’ll make you a painting to show you what to do.’ I made
four big spark plugs!”
The painting is a tribute to the French Dadaist painter Francis Picabia, who once
said his small drawing of a spark plug, now in the Museum of Modern Art in New
York, was a portrait of a young American girl. “He very rightly admired the
energy and electricity of American women,” said Ewing.
Also included in the exhibit are five eight-foot-tall carved totems that have
been standing in front of Ewing’s Los Angeles home for 25 years. “Max Schulz
wanted them, so I’ve restored those. They’re not so weather-beaten now,” he said.
Ewing continues to be a vibrant force in the modern art world. As for Schulz, he
completes his graduate program in another semester, and has already signed on
with the Fisher Gallery to work as a volunteer curator. Finally, he too will be
an integral part of the world of art.
The exhibit opens Dec. 14 and is on view through Feb. 12, 1994. Gallery hours are
noon to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Friday; 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday.
[Photo:] Edgar Ewing at the Fisher Gallery with his painting Pythia Seated, 1983,
acrylic on canvas, from the collection of Marybeth Fule Weber.
[Photo:] Grecian Themes: Love of Pots, by Edgar Ewing, 1991-92, ink on paper.