Monday, August 28, 2006

No one was better than Ed at his best by Steve Mannheimer - August 28, 2006, Indianapolis Star

Piece of work: This Ed Sanders' oil painting is titled "Figure #1." - Photo provided by 4 Star Gallery

August 28, 2006

My view: Steve Mannheimer
No one was better than Ed at his best

Indianapolis artist Ed Sanders died this month. He was 59, too young. With others who knew him, I feel profound loss, like the biggest tree in my yard fell over in the night.

Since the 1980s, Ed had been a center of gravitas for what we optimistically used to call the Indianapolis art scene. Being a decade older than his art school comrades lent him some stature, but his work did more. His dark, deeply wrought paintings and drawings documented an ongoing struggle to understand art and its history, and to make a measure of both. In our small-market town, the greatest reward Ed might reasonably expect was the occasional sale and the consistent respect of his peers, which he got.

There were many back then, including Steve Paddack, Brian Fick, Steve Stoller, Rex Alexander, Julie Edwards, Bill Vlantis, Jesse Speight, Kevin Leslie, Phil Campbell, Ed Funk, Holly Jackson, Jackie and Gwendolyn Skaggs, Carla Knopf, Bill Atkins, Tom Keesee, Jody Grober, Terry Copen and others, along with a handful of gallery directors and patrons. Some have moved away or dropped from sight, but taken at its flood from the mid '80s to early '90s, this small tide did comprise an art scene worth the name.

Despite outward differences of technique or subject matter, these artists shared certain sensibilities and moods, an often nocturnal or dreamed vision that was at turns lyrical or melancholy, perhaps angst-ridden, and always motivated by a desire to say something, albeit allegorical or borderline abstract, about being here in this state at this time. At their best, these artists were very, very good. And no one was better than Ed at his best. The quality of their work and their perseverance made my job as art critic for The Indianapolis Star easier; there was so much to say about them. A theme I repeated, in print and private, was that these artists were the late-20th century equivalent of the Hoosier School artists of the late 19th century: They were of this state and about this state in a way that other artists, including their teachers, often were not. In a city trying so hard, then and now, to establish its reputation as a center of arts and culture, it is a shame that no major art institution ever assembled a significant survey show of this artistic generation. Or perhaps this is one reason the city is still trying. Perhaps my enthusiasm was part pride. Nearly all of them had been students at the Herron School of Art (now the Herron School of Art and Design), where I taught for 24 years. And, full disclosure, I do own one artwork by one of them, a black-and-white print bought after I left the newspaper, titled "Descent from the Cross," by Ed Sanders, from a period when he explored classical religious subjects with expressionist fervor. Ed's friends and fellow artists are now working to ensure that the hundreds of paintings and drawings he left can be fully documented and preserved, as they deserve to be. The last works I saw revealed a turning toward light and color. My sense is that he was getting better, as older artists can, a hope of us all.

It should be easier now for his alma mater Herron or some other significant venue to consider a show across the full range of Ed's pilgrimage. He has freed any institution from the political worry that it might unwisely ennoble one living artist over another. Death has removed the risk. After struggling with history for 20-plus years, Ed has entered it. Any institution could now safely recognize that fact.

1 comment:

Francy said...

Great article/Francy Stoller/we knew Ed/he was terse and private but likable/thank-you/heart that Mary Pappas wrote about Steve Stoller/where