SURRY — An artist’s life can bend and twist in ways that often only make sense from a distance. For Jodi Edwards, now in her mid-50s and living an artist’s life in a rebuilt farmhouse, the journey was as important as where she landed in late middle age. And like many journeys of self-discovery, hers cannot easily be sorted into a beginning, middle and end.
“I started out as an artist’s model,” she said. “And I got really good at it.”
Raised in a home where the arts were heavily promoted — “My parents were both frustrated artists,” Edwards said — she painted a mural on her bedroom wall as a middle-schooler. Fast forward 10 years or so, and with a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts behind her, she began modeling for New York City art colleges and transitioned to a professional art modeling career, which she continued into her late 30s.
That is where the Surry painter’s artistic training really began, as she posed for well-known abstract artists like Norman Bluhm and David Salle. “I think [Bluhm] was my first mentor before I even knew it,” she said, recalling how she would stand against a wall while he “threw paint.”
“I started painting because I was inspired by these guys,” Edwards said. And, by age 26, her own painting career blossomed, with sales from group shows and a solo exhibit in a NYC loft in 1986. Then, two years later, she stopped painting and embarked on her next journey as a singer and songwriter, eventually moving to New Orleans to further her musical career.
“That’s where life took me,” she said with a shrug and a smile.
Filled with energy, stalking from one end to the other of her home studio tucked up above her farmhouse kitchen, she talks of moving to Massachusetts, and then to southern Maine.
It was in Maine at age 52 when Edwards picked up the paintbrush she laid down nearly 25 years ago. By then, she was deep in a teaching career and enjoying a more stable life than in her younger days. But she had not abandoned art; rather, she funneled her creativity into first rebuilding a fire-damaged house in Massachusetts, and then serving as general contractor for her current home, which had been in her husband’s family for generations and had also been mostly destroyed by fire. Her home’s interior is a work of art itself, with its bold colors, thoughtfully placed furniture, and objects of interest married to a traditional Maine farmhouse.
“The quiet and solitude has helped me find contentment as an artist,” Edwards said of her surroundings. That, and getting sober several years ago. “I think the whole vibe of Maine enables me to access the best part of myself.”
As an artist, Edwards is self-taught, pulling influences from NYC abstract icons such as Elaine de Kooning and Jackson Pollock, Spanish artist Joan Miró, Bauhaus artist Wassily Kandinsky and contemporary Maine-based artists like Charlie Hewitt and Lisa Noonis.
“I found an old canvas that was thrown out in a dumpster and I decided to paint over it,” she recalled. “I didn’t want to go to art school. I was afraid they’d squelch the very essence of me.” But she did take classes and have her work critiqued by colleagues and gallery owners, including one from a local gallery that left her helpless on her couch for three days, she said, until she took the feedback and used it constructively in her work.
Now, Edwards shows at the Portland Art Gallery, where she has a show coming up in November, and Artemis Gallery in Northeast Harbor. But it has been in recovery that she rediscovered her artist’s “voice” in later life.
“I wouldn’t even have the career without it,” she said. “When I stopped painting [at age 28], I had to address my addiction issues. I realize I would have none of this without my sobriety.”
Edwards welcomes visitors to her North Bend Road home studio by appointment through her website, jodiedwards.net. She will also participate in an August show at Rural Hall in Surry, of paintings of historic buildings to celebrate Maine’s bicentennial. Her historic building? Pugnuts Ice Cream Shop.