In the field of computer science, abstraction refers to the process of taking away, or removing less relevant characteristics, in order to get to what is most essential. Using that definition, Jodi Edward’s life, like her art, has been a process of abstraction, leading to her current existence on a bucolic family farm in Surry, Maine. Jodi traces her journey from an education at the  Parsons School of Design in New York City, across a trajectory of varied experiences, including waitressing, singing, teaching and posing as an art model. The energy of her courage, and willingness to engage and take risks, shines through her colorful, ebullient pieces, creating a manifestation of abstraction that is entirely her own. Join our conversation with Jodi Edwards on today’s episode of Radio Maine.

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

Hello. I'm Dr. Lisa Belisle and you are listening to, or watching, Radio Maine today. I have with me artist, Jodi Edwards. It's great to have you with me today. 

Jodi Edwards:  

It is great to be here.

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

I've always enjoyed spending time with you, particularly at the art gallery openings because you're, you're probably the brightest human being in the entire crowd. You make a particular effort  to really be one with your work. 

Jodi Edwards:

I do. It's something that's kind of taken on a life of its own. I attended a workshop a couple of years ago on branding. They were talking about, you know, how to brand your art. I started thinking, well, you know, I dress like my paintings and maybe that would be kind of a way for me to be recognized and people would kind of get it. So, it just kind of took off from there, but now you should see my wardrobe. I mean, it's like, I just keep buying different colored shoes and sweaters and it's fun. It's become a lot of fun. It's a fun thing to dress like the painting.

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

You have an entire, as you say, shoe collection. That is actually quite astounding having spent time with you over the years. Because I know there's never a duplication. 

Jodi Edwards:

Yep. Well. You'll get to see the shoes I have on today at some point.

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

Oh well, that's an invitation that I will have to take you up on. This piece that is right behind me, October. Obviously people can say, well, of course we've got the black and we've got the orange.  What else about this caused you to be thinking, okay...

 

Jodi Edwards:

Well, one of the things I try to do is paint for the season or the month. And so for me, October is always going to be orange, some black. And so yeah, this was my idea for October a couple of years ago. And it kinda got a little wild actually for people who are...

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

For those who are listening to the podcast and can't actually see it. How would you describe this piece that you chose to bring with you today? Oh, geez. Lisa, how would you describe it, right? 

Jodi Edwards:

Maybe we can do it together.  

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

Well, I see a lot of shapes. I see a lot of vivid colors, but then there's also some sharp lines. There's some chalk stars or chalk-like stars. I personally really like your work because it's got so many different elements to it. 

Jodi Edwards:

Right. There's some really vibrant orange, some bright turquoise, kelly green, black, it's quite a vibrant piece. 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

Is orange a color that you resonate with? 

Jodi Edwards:

Honestly,  all colors I resonate with. I just totally dig it, so, yeah.  

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

So orange and everything else.

Jodi Edwards:

Pretty much. 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

All right. That's fair. And you have very nicely brought your shoe. This is the first time I have to say we've ever had a shoe with us on the table.  I would like to have people be able to take a look at this. It's kind of fun. It is a very fun shoe. I think it's the most creative clog I may have ever seen. I have to have it. So it's got some skulls on there, some hearts, all kinds of different colors. Where did you get this shoe? And the other one that matches?

Jodi Edwards:

Really want to say I don't like supporting Amazon, but sometimes, you know, I will make an exception for, or maybe I justify, some of my purchases for my art, but I do try to. My mother has been boycotting them since before they started, but we're not going to get into that today. 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

Okay. So you're going to protect your source. We'll just say that this particular...

Jodi Edwards:

Well, you got the hint, you got the message. 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

I got it. I understand. So you're more of a small business supporter. It sounds like. 

 

Jodi Edwards:

Yeah. 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

I mean that makes sense because you are yourself a small business, right?

Jodi Edwards:

Right. Yeah. 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

You spent a lot of time working as a teacher for English as a second language, which is still called ESL now?

Jodi Edwards:

Yeah, I kind of got into teaching.  I grew up in a family where my parents were both frustrated artists. And so they raised us four kids to really go after the arts, which is actually the opposite of what it usually is. My dad was a frustrated actor. He wanted to go to Yale drama school and was talked out of it. And then my mother was a frustrated artist. So we were just artists, and my family was like, yeah, great. I kind of went into the arts early on in my twenties and started painting in my twenties. After a while I felt like I needed to prove myself somehow in the mainstream. So I wanted to know if I could really do it. Being  a teacher in a public school, I think, there is no other better way of achieving mainstream success if you're accepted. So that was part of my plan. At the same time I was trying to be a singer as I made this decision. I was waiting tables and I was 38 years old and I was just really tired of the arts life trying to make it and needed something a little more concrete. But I think that was a really big part of it is just wanting to know that I could fit into mainstream society. And I did. 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

So was there more of a question as to whether you could fit into mainstream society because you came from parents who were frustrated artists and maybe not quite as mainstream? 

Jodi Edwards:

Yeah. I mean, my dad was actually the town justice of the peace for 30 years. And you'd think that he would encourage us to go to law school or I don't know. But it was no, no, who did you wait tables on this week? You know, what famous celebrities did you see? And that was kind of what we were praised for. So I think that’s where that came from.

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

And you did cross paths with some interesting people, including Ella Fitzgerald.

 

Jodi Edwards:

So that story is, I was 30 years old, I was living in New York city.  I moved to New York in my twenties and wow! I met her road manager in an elevator on my lunch hour. I was working on 57th street in a hospital, actually in a detox unit. Every day on my lunch hour, I would go over to that big fancy hotel. I think it was Essex street or something, Essex house? I would take my lunch and take the elevator and just press any button. One day her road manager got in the elevator with me and I was listening to music from Italy. I just got back from Italy. He said, oh, I’m Miss Fitzgerald's road manager, we just got back from Italy. And we clicked. I brought my guitar later and sang for him. He wasn't hitting on me, he was 70 years old and just needed to be listened to. He was the recording manager for Billie Holiday and Frank Sinatra back in the day. He had all these great stories. So, I hung out with him for a couple of days on my lunch hour.  They happened to be in town for a few days before the concert at Lincoln center. It was May, I was 30 years old, and he was trying to figure out how I could meet her. So he said, Jodie, I’ve got an idea! We're sitting in the lobby, eating lunch, and he said, you know what? Her dresser is sick tonight. Why don't you come, be dressed and ready to go. You're going to carry her dress on your arm. You'll ride in the limo and you can get her dressed. She's not high maintenance, you'll put on her makeup. Meanwhile, all I ever did for makeup was lipstick. My sister used to have to do my makeup for me because I just, anyway. So I showed up and in a very elegant, back then I was a lot thinner and younger, it was a black strapless dress. I did it, I carried her dress on my arm and we got in the limo. I was sitting next to Joe Pass and she had a doctor next to her. The thing was, oh my God, she was so nervous. She really had low self-esteem. It was fascinating. She kept apologizing, “oh, I've got a nasal drip and I,” you know.  Well we were riding up Broadway and she was telling me all these places where she used to sing. Anyway, we got to Lincoln center and were ushered in. I had to get in this tiny little dressing room about the size of a bathroom, a small bathroom. She's half blind because she's got diabetes. I'm trying to get her in a jumpsuit. She's standing there in her bra and her underwear and she's got this necklace from Paloma, Picasso. “Oh, Paloma, Picasso gave me that.”  Well, then I go to put the makeup on and it's makeup from Woolworth's, in just a little thing. Then I got to stand like 10 feet away from her onstage and look through a window. At the time I was pursuing a career in singing or trying to. We were in the elevator the next day going upstairs. You know, she said, someday, I'll hear you sing. And that's when I started singing because what other better affirmation would there be? So it was fascinating, but the most fascinating part was how really sad and depressed she was when she wasn't on stage. But, oh what a night, that was just incredible. I got to hang out with her and her band a couple of days after that. It was kind of cool. 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

Does say something about what we see, what we want to see, and need to see when we look at other people that are in the public eye versus what their lives are actually like. 

Jodi Edwards:

Yeah. It really did because I was aspiring to sing, and then I just, I don't know. It just really hit me deep, you know?  Maybe it's not all it's cracked up to be, or maybe, I don't know, it was a very deep feeling to see that she was so sad and depressed. She actually looked like a bag lady when she was walking in the lobby shuffling. Then she would spend the whole day in her hotel room waiting to go on stage at eight o'clock at night. Then she would just go “AND WELCOME EVERYBODY, HELLO!” And she was just waiting for that moment where she would just shine. And all these people waiting to tell her they loved her. Then on the ride home, “oh, I, I sounded awful. I had a nasal drip.”  Just low self esteem. It was just like, really? She's the greatest jazz singer in the world. How could she be so human? But she was. She also had a really sad life.

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

Well, it sounds like you learned a lot having met her from that standpoint, but also you managed to be inspired to pursue something that you also loved, knowing that she had not found complete happiness with that lifestyle. 

Jodi Edwards:

Yeah. I think that's right. 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

Do you still sing now?

Jodi Edwards:

My focus is on my art right now. I think it's really hard to do two.  I've been wanting to get back into it. I can sing summertime, honestly, well, I can sing it pretty, pretty good. I guess it's my signature piece, but I'd like to sing locally with jazz quartet night. I've got my feelers out there. I've got some guys that are gonna let me sit in. I did sit in a couple of years ago and sing with a band. But, it's hard to put it out, all of my energy goes here right now into the art. So it's hard to do, you have to put a lot of energy into it. 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

Oh. So we get to watch your singing coming off the wall kind of? 

Jodi Edwards:

Yeah. I guess. There are a lot of artists and musicians. They go together, or they're artists or musicians.  There's a thing to it. 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

There was a time in your life that you took a pause from your art and went towards teaching, towards the mainstream. How did you feel about not engaging in the painting aspect of things during this time?

Jodi Edwards:

I was painting, I was trying.  I started out as an art model in my twenties. I moved to New York city and I modeled all over New York city. Parsons School of Visual Arts, The Art Students League, you name it. Then I moved out to the Hamptons and modeled for several famous artists, including Norman Bloom and David Sally and Larry Rivers. Norman bloom had the biggest effect on me. I was 25 years old and he had a studio that was the size of, oh gosh, not Walmart, that's too big. Maybe your local hardware store. I was up against a wall and he had a coffee can full of paint and he was on the other side of the, of the studio. He would just go up to the wall and just splash paint on the wall. I know I'm taking it the long way around to answer this question, but I got very inspired by watching him paint. And he kind of, I wouldn't say that he took me under his wing at all, but I was 25, I was very young. Having been raised in an artistic home, I think it was just like the ground that work had been laid and he kind of set the fire. It was just like, oh, wow! Look at what you can do here in this huge studio. And Norman Bloom, I just finished reading Ninth Street Women, which explained the whole beginning of the abstract expression era. He was a first and second generation abstract painter. He was right in there with de Kooning. I love Helen Frank and Sailor and Joan Mitchell and Grace Hartigan. For me to be 25 years old in that studio-yeah! Witnessing and seeing what was possible. I was very well liked as a model because I was uninhibited, so I was requested a lot. Then I started to paint and I had my first art opening in New York City at the age of 26. At a huge loft with a hundred people in a big band and my paintings were six feet by four feet. It was just too much to take in at a young age. So I needed to take a pause and I needed to address some addiction issues, and get sober. 

So everything kind of went on the shelf at the age of 28. I got into recovery, but I did paint all along. I did paint, but not like I am now where I'm just really going for it.  I had a lot of work to do internally, you know? But I was pursuing a career in music and like I said, I was teaching, and I would paint throughout those years, just not with the Gusto that I have today. And that I've always had actually, just now I'm channeling it a lot better. 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

What is your Maine connection? Tell me about that. 

Jodi Edwards:

Oh, gosh. Well, so I met my husband 23 years ago in a church in Massachusetts, a funky church, unity church. I'm not a big church person, but David has a camp up in Surry, in Elsworth on Patent pond. So we started going up to camp and I just absolutely fell in love with it. Then years down the road, we were always planning to move and retire up there. Then the farmhouse that has been in his family for six generations, had a fire in it, five years ago. We bought it for a song and have been rebuilding it. What I love about it up there, oh my gosh, well, it's just so quiet. So community oriented. I've never experienced anything like that in my life where your neighbors, you care about them. You can stop in without calling. They do that. Took a while for me to get used to that. Just, I don't know, people make time for you. I live down east in Surry, a small town of 1500 people. I don't know, I'm never lonely. There's always something to do. You'd think that there wouldn't be because you're living in such a rural community.  But oddly enough, there are potlucks like once a week or sometimes three times a week in the summer, or they used to be before COVID. There's a lot of community gathering events. For me, somebody with a lot of energy, as you can see in my paintings, Maine really calms me down. Being up there, calms me down and I need it. I crave it. 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

How did the fire impact you? 

Jodi Edwards:

Oh, it didn't really, it was my second fire damaged house. I bought my first one at 42 years old.  I rebuilt a fire damaged house by myself, pretty much. I had help, but it was the only thing I could afford in Hamilton, Massachusetts. That's another story I don't need to get into, but it wasn't off-putting at all. In fact it was just like, oh, I've been there, done this. So it wasn't intimidating. My husband, let me GC the whole project because I had built the house and he helped me build the house, the first house.  It was a lot of work, but a work of art. My house is so colorful, it's great. It's really beautiful, and I love it. 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

Not only do you match yourself to your paintings, but you match your house to yourself and your paintings. 

Jodi Edwards:

Yeah! My whole life is curated. I think that's a great way of putting it. I curate everything to what I'm wearing, to the scarf on my dog's neck too! I get such joy out of it. Making things look a certain way and it's how I was raised. Everything was about the way things looked and the aesthetics were at the top of the top in my family. 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

You also had the opportunity to meet the curators. Speaking of curation, it's a good little segue for us, the contemporary art curator of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 

Jodi Edwards:

Right. Okay. So I'm living in New York city and then I discovered that all the really cool people are going out to the Hamptons in the summertime. So, I want to go where all the cool people are going to. So I managed to get myself out to the Hamptons. This was 1985, I believe. There was a little coffee shop in South Hampton that I was working at called the Buttery and Henry Geltseller was the contemporary curator for the MET. He was, oh my God, such a character. He used to come in every morning for breakfast, but he was this, oh my God, well, flamboyant big belly, straw hat, bow tie, strutting around South Hampton. I mean, I can just picture him strutting around and talking like this. He had such a way about him. And well, I figured out I knew who he was. So I figured out if I got my paintings into the basement, maybe just maybe he would come down and look at them. So I did, I brought them all down there and one day I just said, Hey, Henry, would you come down? I've got some paintings in the basement, would you come and take a look? So he did. He looked around and he said, man, these are good. That was all I needed to hear. 

Dr. Lisa Belilse

So you're pretty fearless. 

Jodi Edwards:

Fearless. Ballsy is another word. I discussed this before with my husband. Is it okay if I say that word? He said, yes, just don't curse Jodi. Fearless or whatever word you'd like to use for it is something that not everybody is able to embrace. It's something that, I mean, it seems like you're willing to put yourself in the right place at the right time, kind of ask for what you'd like to see happen. Then if something doesn't work out, you know, it's kind of like the saying about the barn burning down and then you can see the stars. You're like, all right, that's fun. I'm going to move on, keep going, you know? I'm a huge risk taker. When people see my paintings, they often say they feel and see joy. Happy sounds kind of, I don't know, but they feel, they feel something. They say they're joyous. I feel like I'm always just seeking out joy in life. Actually my name means Jodi, means joy. I'm a risk taker. Two other great stories I won't go into now, but when I was working at the Museum of Modern Art, in my twenties as well. I worked as a cashier with one of my friends and we figured out that the Beatles were being inducted at the Waldorf Astoria around the corner. We figured out how to sneak in to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame awards, in 1988. Oh my God, I mean, just, you know, that was wild! We cased the joint on our lunch hour. Then we got all dressed up and got down on the subway and went in there and he's like, Jodi, just go pick a ticket off the table when they're not looking. Well, I did. I grabbed Brian Wilson's ticket from the beach boys. And we went, what a night we had. Then after that, it was like, this was the same year the Grammys were at Rockefeller Center. And we were going to get coaching jobs. It fell through and I was like, well, I'm going to go to the Grammys. Well, I snuck into the Grammy awards and New York City was blocked off for like three days. There were three police barricades. I mean, I'm just telling you this, because it's the kind of chutzpah that I have. I asked every single person to walk me to the door, walk me to the door. They wouldn't, and the police said if we see you one more time, you're out. I still didn't give up. I just eventually snuck under this thing when the cop wasn't looking. I walked in with these four people and the next thing I know I'm standing in there and calling my parents from the payphone. I don't know, I don't give up. But, here's the thing, I'm polite. I mean, I'm not mean, I'm gracious. One of my coworkers, when I was a teacher said, you're like a bulldog with manners. You're like a pit bull with manners. So, I'm just tenacious. I go after it, but I always try to be thankful and grateful and try to be nice in the process. Except for when I was getting into the Grammys, that was just do or die. So that's the kind of, Chutzpah, I guess you could say.

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

Are there a lot of other artists with that type of tenaciousness and fearlessness? Have you run into people like yourself? 

Jodi Edwards:

Well, you know, Hmm. I kinda got the feeling that Eric Hopkins might be like that. When I talked to him at one of the openings, I was asking him for some advice. I remember him saying, drive fast. He said, speed, drive fast, and never looked back. Something like that. He said, you’ve got to take risks. The first thing he said was you gotta get kicked around. You gotta get kicked around a lot, which I have a thick skin for somebody who is emotionally sensitive, it doesn't stop me. I usually won't take no for an answer until I go to the person who really has the ultimate authority to say no. But again, I try to be nice about it, you know. But, when they told me I was going to have to put a brand new septic system into that house that I bought in Massachusetts for $9,000. When you couldn't buy anything under 400. I found a house all boarded up, my very first house. I was in the Boston globe too, on the North Shore section for building this house or rebuilding it myself.  I had help, but I learned a lot from Time-Life books and hiring people that taught me framing and wiring and roofing. And well, no, I did the roof on my own, but oh shoot- I lost my train of thought! That septic, they said, you're going to need a new septic. I was like, well, that was a rumor that was going around so the septic guys could just put new septics in. I said, well, I want to know from the septic people that come and tell me whether I needed a new septic, I want to know from the guy who gives a certificate, whether or not I really need one or not. So sure enough, I called the company and they said, well, no, you gotta have 10 feet of empty space. The house hadn't been lived in for three years. So my cesspool passed when they told me they don't pass cesspools anymore, but that's the kind of thing. I'm a great hoop jumper. I can jump over, I have the stamina. I just keep going. That's a great characteristic. It can be, it can be hard for the husband sometimes. When you've been together for 23 years,  somehow you manage to balance it. We do, we're a great team. He's very grounded and very practical. Yeah, we're a great team. 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

It’s good to have that, that yin and yang. 

Jodi Edwards:

Yeah. I do think opposites attract. He's an introvert sort of, I'm an extreme extrovert.  

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

You know, I think that it's always interesting for me to talk to people who are very extroverted and who are willing to live out loud, because I think sometimes people who are willing to live out loud give permission to the rest of us to live out loud. I mean, when you bring your shoes, when you bring your art, and you're willing to not have fear, then other people who maybe aren't as extroverted can say, wow, that seemed to work out. All right. That's great!

Jodi Edwards:

Point. Lisa, that's really a great point because, you know, it's not that easy.  It is fun, but occasionally I feel vulnerable.  You know that, what do people think of me, kind of thing.  So hearing you say that, it’s  helpful. You never know who you're going to inspire. I have heard I'm an inspiration to many people actually. So that's always a good thing. 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

I think so. Yeah. I'm clear having met many artists, myself and gone to many openings. I mean, you've always been memorable in my mind. 

Jodi Edwards:

Okay. In a very positive way, I'll take it! 

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

The work is also very memorable. So when you talk about really living fully, the person that you are, you're not hiding behind anything. 

Jodi Edwards:

No. It's always been my dream to have a career in painting and you know, I'm finally doing it. So I'm in my 10th year now. You know, they say it takes 10 years just to get there. 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

And you feel like you're there.

Jodi Edwards:

I heard recently that when you're in your sixties it’s supposed to be the best decade of your life, the prime. Actually I read an article or heard somewhere that from age 60 to 70 is when we are in our prime. I'm all down for that. I'm 61. I think we have it backwards too, about age in our society. The people that I look up to in our gallery, especially Phillip Barter, Eric Hopkins, they're in their seventies. I think you know, there’s Philip. I think he's 80 actually.  I look up to them. Their careers are really, it's taken a lot. It takes a long time to get your career to a place like that. So I'm looking forward to getting older. I mean for now for a woman to say that it's like avant garde or something. It's unusual, but I just think we get better with age. We have more wisdom.  

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

We kind of grow into ourselves and our genetics.

Jodi Edwards:

Yeah. And we get a lot of the other stuff out of the way in our thirties, forties, and fifties. Our careers are established, we're financially more stable, hopefully.  Yeah, I'm psyched. You’ve just got to keep your health. Right. We've just got to stay healthy. That's the, the priority, you know? 

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

Yes. Come tell my patients that!  Inspire them. 

Jodi Edwards:

You've got to, that's what it's, that's what it's all about. You know?

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

I completely agree. Some more good things to come from you. 

Jodi Edwards:

Yeah, I think so.

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

Well, I want to thank you for bringing yourself and your shoe, and you're beautiful painting October. Also, I know your husband, David is out there with your two little dogs out on little John island. So shout out to David and the dogs walking around little John. It's very nice to have all of you as guests. 

Jodi Edwards:

Oh, good! Well, I'm really grateful to you and Kevin both for the opportunity to do this. It's wonderful. 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

It's been a lot of fun for me to speak with the artists.  Jodi Edwards today on radio Maine. I hope that you take the time to look at the Portland Art Gallery website or go to the Portland Art Gallery in Portland, Maine. Or maybe come to one of our openings and get a chance to see Jodi's shoes up close and personal, along with the works that she does. Thank you so much for coming in and talking to me today. Thank you!