PROVIDENCE — Shakti, Hinduism’s divine feminine, is a sensual, fertile, maternal, and fierce energy. Wendy Edwards manifests Shakti in paintings and pastels. They’re perfect mediums for it — sumptuous, touchable, potentially incandescent.
Edwards’s show “Luscious,” at Brown University’s David Winton Bell Gallery, features more than 50 works made since she began teaching at Brown in 1980. Born in 1950, she came of age during Second Wave Feminism. Painters who preceded her downplayed any femininity viewers saw in their work. Being thought of as painters, not women painters, was a matter of survival.
But the 1970s saw a new embrace of women’s experience in the juicy, gestural work of artists such as Pat Steir and Joan Snyder. The Pattern and Decoration movement, full of frou-frou and texture, repudiated Minimalism and celebrated domestic arts traditionally denigrated as women’s work.
Edwards’s pieces are exuberant, edgy, and thoughtful. She savors sexuality in “Georgia Peach,” a luminous fruit (or abstracted vagina) contoured in hot pink, and the gloriously puckish abstraction of male genitalia in “Daniel Boone.”
Body parts, netting, landscape references, and organic forms recur. Edwards’s layered pigments suggest generative, primordial roiling. Cake decorating tools add yummy tactility that hint at textiles as well as frosting. “Lucky Charm” looks like one of Josef Albers’s “Homage to the Square” paintings, but Edwards festoons her concentric bands of yellow (and pale blue at the heart) with nubbly squibs.
In “Urchin,” a proud, squirmy ewer-like form in deep purple dominates a porous ground of yellow-smudged blue; Edwards weaves a grid over that in red-violet tendrils, undulating the way a fishing net moves with its contents — containment and expansion in one image.
Lately, she has been painting flowers. In “Mounting,” made last year, languorous iris petals tumble as if falling from a dying flower down a lemon-lime field subtly swiped with big, loose arcs. The yellow tosses the creamy blues and violets off the surface like a trampoline.
Edwards’s sweet, tart colors and delicious textures make the senses a gateway into larger notions about women and men, creation and mortality. Paint as body, paint as soul.
LUSCIOUS: Paintings and drawings by Wendy Edwards
At David Winton Bell Gallery, Brown University, 64 College St., Providence, through March 15. 401-863-2932, www.brown.edu/bellgallery
Cate McQuaid can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @cmcq.