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Diane Edison
When I Am Old I Shall Wear Purple
at George Adams Gallery

Rebecca Has a Red Shirt Too

Pictures Don't Lie
by Jill Conner

Diane Edison, "Drawings," Jan. 7-Feb. 8, 2002, at George Adams Gallery, 41 West 57th Street, New York, N.Y. 10019

Diane Edison's monumental portraits, done in pastel or colored pencil using an expressionistic hyper-realist style that recalls the regionalism of Thomas Hart Benton and John Steuart Curry, depict either herself, her mother or her daughter. Edison has a subtle color touch that gives each portrait a sense of unique personality and feeling. The artist imbues these self-representations with a deep intensity.

Edison has now used herself as a primary subject matter for ten years. Self-Portrait in a Red Shirt (2002), When I Am Old I Shall Wear Purple (2001) and Self Portrait with Glasses (1997) all show the artist herself, gazing out at the viewer and asserting the substance of who she is in a stern if nonprovocative manner. Originally from Piscataway, N.J., Edison currently lives and works in Atlanta, and has shown her work in numerous group exhibitions, such as "Figure/Disfigure" at the University of Rhode Island, "New Realism for a New Millennium" at the University of Rochester and "The Art of Collecting" at the Flint Institute.

Edison's sensitivity toward motherhood surfaces in the representation of her daughter, Rebecca Has a Red Shirt Too (2002). Another drawing, titled A Thought (2002), represents the artist's profile and initially attempts to disengage the sitter's gaze from the drawn surface, but the artist's unwillingness to commit entirely to this stylistic change appears to the left, where a small segment of mirror reflects a sliver of her frontal pose.

Two additional works, Locks (2002) and Mom at 75 (1995), represent people who look away. Locks in particular portrays the artist's own braided hair, which alludes to a close connection with Jamaican culture. Similar to her artistic predecessors, Edison intricately utilizes set standards of Western drawing and creates her own expressive style that echoes a larger tradition of African-American art.

As an African-American artist, Edison takes part in a larger discourse that began in the late 1920s depicting lived experiences that struck a common ground within the African-American community. Particularly when seen in the context of the excellent show currently on view at the Metropolitan Museum, "African-American Artists, 1929-1945," Edison's portraits clearly fit into an older continuum, focusing less on a shared moment and instead elaborating more upon her own concerns surrounding individual identity.

Though African-American culture is not monolithic, it is often articulated as a collective force. Edison's portraits capture a crucial component within the African-American community -- individuality and family.

JILL CONNER writes art criticism for NYArts, Sculpture and Contemporary Magazine.