East City Art Profiles: Q&A with the Six Artists of Prism V: Facing Fear in the 21st Century

By Editorial Team on September 27, 2017

Editor’s Note: what follows is a question and answer series with the six artists of Prism V: Facing Fear in the 21st Century currently on view at c. d. Edwards’s studio in Brookland.  More information about the exhibition can be found here.


Image Credit: George Tolbert.


Cheryl D. Edwards

What is your process?
My processes are varied; but what remains constant is the subject and concept of my work. I have been creating work for many years about the Ndebele Society (culture, identity, and historical memory), I cannot stop doing this and the way that I attempt to grow in my practice is by expanding my ability to use different processes to express this idea. As of lately, I have been combining many processes to express a singular idea. This is seen in my mixed media work, where I sometimes employ drawing, painting, at times emphasizing form, color and line to express an atmosphere or to elicit an emotion. Most recently, I have used printmaking and ink stain on raw canvas to express my ideas, which are focused on culture, identity, memory and self-exploration.

Discuss your color palette—how does it inform your work?
My color palette is rich and is drawn from what I see in nature, as well as my cultural background. I tend to use color boldly and in multiplicity. I use color opposites to express an emotion, elicit a memory and/or an atmosphere. As of late I have been limiting my color palette to help expand my ability to create more with less.

Who has influenced you work?
My degrees in political science and law, and graduate studies in Black Studies have informed my creativity and research in my paintings and mixed media work. My advisor for my major in Political Science was Howard Zinn; he had a profound influence on my application of political thought. Another figure of influence was John Hope Franklin who taught me about the history of Black Civilization. William Kunstler, a renowned attorney in civil rights and anti-apartheid activist, taught me about the legal system in the United States and the application thereof to assist people in need. And last but not least was my Art Teacher, Ernest Crichlow. I began my visual art studies in 1988 at the Art Student League in New York City, for two years taking three-hour classes three nights per week. The total experience of my life and my education is a predominate factor in how, what and why I create art. From an art history perspective, my influences are Horace Pippin, Sam Gilliam, and Barbara Chase-Riboud.

What can viewers expect to see at Prism V?
My art is always presented from my frame of reference being an African American Female living in America. I feel this is what I know best and what I want to understand more about. The exhibit is about fear in a sense of experiencing fear, overcoming fear and/or processing fear. I have been working with the property of water since 2014 and this work represents a slight shift in my subject matter. I have delved deeper within to address the issue of historical memory and self-identity. I believe that racism is taught and is based upon a superficial condition of ignorance and lack of self-esteem. I want people to view the light boxes that I have created using the basic substance that every human being process, e.g. salvia, and hopefully the viewers will begin to think about what we have most in common as human beings, as oppose to our differences that we see based upon a temporary time and place.

What do you believe is value of painting in the 21st Century?
Painting will always be relevant in art. It is in painting that one truly begins to understand color, texture, shape, line and form. It is a basic foundation of art and no matter what process or medium an artist will use, you will always go back to the understanding of painting.


Image courtesy of the artist.

Eve Hennessa

What can viewers expect to see at Prism V?
I have two large 52×52” watercolor & acrylic works on paper. They are sacred geometry, but not exactly. There are both asymmetrical and organic forms included. My works contain many overlapping patterns and the occasional non pattern. Not following the expected flips switches in the brain creating new neural pathways. That is, along with the simultaneous rest and expansion that sacred geometry gives to the mind of the viewer. Experiencing my pieces increases awareness & thought possibilities of the viewer.

What do you hope to impart upon viewers of your work?
I hope to impart an awareness of the invisible world. My work has usually been about the world of the unseen. That is the energies. beings and activities that are happening here all around us. I hope to transmit the awe of the mysteries of creation. Some theorize that creation is born of math and geometry. That seems plausible to me.

What draws you to one particular medium over another?
I do painting, sculpture, performance art, ceremony, and dance

I choose paper as the painting medium for my watercolor, ink or partial acrylic paintings. I love the texture of the paper and the delicate care needed to use it. I love the transparency of watercolor and how it works with the light and the white of the page. Archival paper will outlive canvass by hundreds or thousands of years if properly cared for. My masters thesis was about paper. I use canvas for commissions & portraits, but I am in love with paper. The use of paper is one manifestation of Asian influence in my work. Tactile pleasure is an element in my sculpture as well.


Image courtesy of the artist.

Mary Welch Higgins

What is your process?
I’m constantly drawing and using drawing as a way to record my impressions and what I observe. Sketches in books may or may not evolve into larger more finished pieces. If I’m developing a mixed media work that usually begins with a found object or an old book.

For the past ten years, I’ve not been drawing from life. I’ve been drawing from memory or what I call subconscious response. The results of the work could be a real thing or memory but they are not. The non-literal process of drawing leads to the result. Typically the drawings ARE additive but I will also go at the paper with an erasure if I the drawing calls for it.

While I respond to formalism. It’s fair to say that I am not a formalists. I’ve closer to a surrealist.

What medium(s) do you employ?
I’ve worked across media for many years as well. I’ve worked in clay, mixed media sculpture, collage, painting and in graduate school computer animation and digital imagery. At some point when the moment is right I will return to animation.

Drawing has always been a core activity, which I love. I just can’t stop. It’s important for me to be creative on a daily basis.

Who has influenced you work?
I’ve studied art history for years. I’m a product of growing up in a family of artists in DC. I learned about Picasso, Degas, Van Gogh but also modernist and DC artists like Noland and Mehring at a young age. I still love Alexander Calder’s sense of humor. Calder makes me happy. I go visit his new room at the East Wing whenever I’m downtown.

Recently I’ve been inspired by the experimental filmmaker, Phillipp Artus. He draws with light. He got me excited about the possibilities of animation again. I was sad that I was not feeling up to going to his talk at the Phillips Collection this past spring. Thank you Internet! You can check out his work – phillipartus.com His studio is also on Instagram.

When did you first begin making art?
I identified as an artist early in my life. My mom was always making art either drawing or her ceramics. Her close friends were also artists so the art life became a real thing for me early. She also took us to the National Gallery and the Museum of American art so I was looking at art early. It was just life. My Dad also collected art and his sister and his husband had a strong collection of art. Typically gifts in our family were sketchbooks and boxes of pastels.

I was fortunate in high school to attend a small school and be able to receive formal art training in small groups a few days a week. From there I attended the Corcoran in the early 80s. So by 18, I had jumped into the studio life. There have been journeys down some of life’s side streets but arts always been there.

What can viewers expect to see at Prism V?
hey will see drawings mostly from this past year. Hands Up was done in 2014. All of the drawings are from a place of memory and a personal response to an experience. They reference my love of art history, books and objects but also they refer to things happening now. The writing is a form of drawing but possiblY also a form of code. Some of the text is excerpted from Van Gogh’s letters but tie into today directly or in-directly. I combine abstract gestures with the real words. The newest series of drawings inspired by exposure to this rare book called The Voynich Manuscript (check the Internet) also references my health fears. I recently had a round of medical tests and diagnosis that included an enlarged heart. The marks in the latest drawings could be EKG marks but the movement in the plants reminds me of my experience of watching my heart move during an echocardiogram.

Image courtesy of the artist.

Isabel Manalo

The two pieces I have currently on view at Cheryl Edwards’s studio were made in 2008 and were part of a body of work where I was exploring landscape abstraction as mediated by the photograph. Photography has always been a part of my process (not anymore) with this work and for the reason that it connects to the idea of Susan Sontag’s ‘arrested moment’ as captured by the lens. I wanted this feeling to translate into a painting where most of the positive space was diluted and where the negative space becomes equally relevant and potent. These conceptually driven works were meant to express and convey a place and time where the physicality of our environment can be perceived as coming and going in a way that is alarming, disarming, scary and even romantic. Inspired by 19th c. English and French Romantic landscape painting, I was smitten by depictions of the beauty of the land that was represented an equally foreboding and potentiality for violence at times. I incorporated collaged cut photographs and painted layering of stripes to exaggerate and contrast the conflicting emotions of the space and the land. A hint of even further dissonance.

I feel this sentiment is still relevant today if not even more so now that we are living in a Trump America.

I still continue to use paint as my main medium, however my focus is in my current body of work has changed to be more about language and imagery with the specific inclusion and expression of the Baybayin, a pre-colonial script of the Philippines, my country of origin. My work is courtesy of Addison Ripley Fine Art where I have had three solo shows in 2009, 2012 and 2016 respectively.

Image courtesy of the artist.


Beverly Ress

What is your process?
I make drawings, using colored pencil on paper. It’s important to me to draw from objects, never from images of objects.

Have you shifted the direction of your work and if so, why?
In college and grad school, my focus was sculpture that eventually became installation-based work. I really love materials, and making things. When my kids were young, I began drawing some of the objects I was using in my sculpture, and fell in love with representational drawing – its requirement of almost meditative observation.

When you are not in your studio, what serves as inspiration for your work?
I often draw objects I find in museum collections – I’ve worked with the collections at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, The Mutter Museum in Philadelphia, and at the National Museum of Health and Medicine, a military medical museum.

What draws you to one particular medium over another?
Why do you focus on paint/sculpture/photography over other media?
Drawing continues to be an interesting challenge for me, and it’s led me on a provocative and enlightening journey. What’s better than that?

Who has influenced you work?
I love the sense of space in much of the traditional Japanese arts – both in the flat imagery, and in traditional architecture and gardens. I love the crisp observations of the American Luminist painters. I love Vija Celmins attention to detail.


Image courtesy of the artist.


Fabiola Alvarez Yurcisin

What is your process?
Weaving allows me to saturate space and ask the viewer to discover the unavoidable relationship between the inner-outer walls of my pieces. I intentionally pour copious labor into my pieces to mimic the way ivy grows on the bark of trees. The precise and deliberate construction of my work is visually persuasive.

My work lives between my intuitive home of Mexico and my rational home of the United States. I do not remember a time in my life when I did not have a compulsion to make things with my hands. Creating art is my vocation. Making, guides my energy to expand my understanding of the interdependency of all living things.

My installations and sculptures relate to water and landscape, even though they are made with materials that were entirely manufactured by man.

What medium(s) do you employ?
I am an artist that utilizes what human progress sheds. My work repurposes obsolete recording materials, like typewriter ribbon and video and audiocassette tapes. I also use plastic color ribbons, used in Mexican funeral wreaths.

The panels, cages, and nets that I weave are reflective surfaces that question the speed in which we produce, consume, and discard our technologies.

Who has influenced you work?
I remember reading Calvin Tomkins’s great biography of Marcel Duchamp. Duchamp is one of my favorite artists. He gifted me, and most contemporary artists, the value of the everyday life and all the objects in it.

I also love reading Louise Bourgeois’ Destruction of the Father/Reconstruction of the Father: Writings and Interviews, 1923-1997. She is my go to artist when I need support with my art making and with my life as a female artist.

What do you hope a viewer would take away from your work?
I create objects that respond to systems that want to keep us under control or within certain limits. By building metaphors that explore the caging relationship we have with the natural world, I explore the impossibility of our superiority to nature.

I am concerned with the protection and preservation of our beautiful planet. I want the viewer to participate in the conversation about what kind of living things humans are. It has become necessary to question why we have detached ourselves from what sustains our life. I hope to create a pause to trigger questions about the speed in which we transform most of our innovations into the waste that is saturating our lands and oceans.

What draws you to one particular medium over another? Why do you focus on paint/sculpture/photography over other media?
When I am asked what kind of artist I am, I usually say that I am an object maker. Some of my work takes the form of panels, others are sculptures and installations. I feel it is important to be free to choose the medium that can best express my ideas. I do want the medium to dictate what is possible. In addition to my 3D work, I am currently working on sound objects and experimenting with video.

PRISM V: Facing Fear in the 21st Century group exhibition is on view at c.d. Edwards Studio #9 is located at 716 Monroe Street NE.  The exhibition is on view through October 28, 2017.

Gallery Hours are as follows: Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday from 12-5 p.m.

For more information contact Cheryl Edwards at cdedwardsstudio@gmail.com.