Art Is Teaching, Teaching Is Art
Artist and teacher Edna Andrade died Thursday, April 17, in Philadelphia, where she lived and worked for more than 60 years. She was 91. Her warmth, curiosity, and steady generosity to fellow artists, students, and friends belies the common and too-often accurate portrait of the artist as a consummate narcissist, greedy for riches and fame. Andrade leaves behind not only a serious body of work, but a community of colleagues -- many of them women -- she seriously stimulated and encouraged. For them as well as others, Edna Andrade represented the best of what an artist can be.
She studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and University of Pennsylvania. A painter who devoted herself first to realism, Andrade changed direction dramatically in the late 1950s and became one of a very few artists to work with geometrical patterns in a style that became known as Optical or Op art. Her canvases range from soft-gray shape-studies that are equally illusionary and lyrical to vividly hued works with a less hypnotic, more festive impact.
Yet her output on the gallery wall was matched by her impact on the Philadelphia-area art world. She taught for more than three decades at what is now the University of Arts, and in 1996 received the College Art Association Award for Distinguished Teaching. Critic and Pennsylvania Academy professor of painting Elizabeth Osborne remembers her affectionately as “a mentor, a friend, a role model … maybe, no, not quite a mother.”
Andrade’s personal and professional kindness, Osborne says, was balanced by a pithy, direct take on the realities a working artist’s life, her “core of steel.” And Osborne recalls her humor, which could be sharp: “She used to say that men were wonderful on weekends, and for lifting heavy things.”
One could ask why Andrade’s admirable, engaging work isn’t better known, but answers aren’t easy to come by. One reason may be that Op art itself is seen as a branch movement, abstraction without the obvious oomph of expressionism, Pop without the Brillo box or Campbell’s can. Also, Op’s two stars are based overseas: Victor Vasarely worked in France, Bridget Riley is still active in London. The style never gained a hold in New York.
Lack of wide recognition didn’t seem to bother Andrade; how could a teacher inspire if burdened with petty doubts about one’s skill or calling? In a recent magazine interview for the Pennsylvania Academy, her alma mater, she had some practical, real-life advice for students: “Just hang in there and do it, whether you’re paid for it or not. Find some way to eat and still work.”
Fame? It’s not really necessary: “I don’t think all of Holland knew about Vermeer. Maybe you’re not going to get it in this life, but you might in the next. It’s a crapshoot.”
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