Edie Fagan’s art brings harmony, joy and an appreciation of the unfolding of life
Story by Kim Henry
Photos by Dylan Lytle
As life unfolds, we have two choices. We can evolve and find a new part of ourselves, or we can dig in and cling to what we know. For artist Edie Showalter Fagan, the choice is easy. “Life offers us what we need when we need it,” she says. “I found life as an artist when I was ready—and not a moment before.”
After a successful career in sales, and a full life raising two sons, Edie was at a crossroads. She understood a new chapter lay ahead, and she had faith it would reveal itself in time, but she could not be sure what it was. She had always been a creative person and had earned a degree in Art from Queens University of Charlotte, but for years that creativity had lived in the quiet moments of life—sewing, embroidery, handmade Batman & Robin costumes, beautiful invitations. Shortly after her youngest son went to college, however, she attended a week-long painting workshop, and at once she knew something magical had happened. “My brain just went crazy! I was so intrigued,” laughs Fagan.
Learning to paint became her obsession. She began with realistic watercolor paintings. As a signature member of the National Watercolor Society, Fagan’s acclaimed book, Adored Dogs, features 61 watercolor portraits of much-loved dogs, complete with a few lines about their lives and quirks. Guaranteed to melt the hardest of hearts, Adored Dogs continues to sell copies even today, although after more than 400 animal portraits, Fagan was ready to learn something new.
She also focused on lively street scenes and found great success. These watercolors are now prized by collectors, but again she felt the itch. “When I was painting in watercolor, my style was loose, but representative. By the nature of the medium, everything was planned and drawn in detail ahead of time. I loved the paintings when they were completed, but the process felt very restrictive to me. I found I rarely painted...but I wanted to paint, so I needed to find a new path.”
That new path took courage and yet another leap of faith as an artist—but Fagan did not hesitate. She made the switch to abstract, nonrepresentational work with acrylics. “I tired of painting commission portraits and realized I no longer wanted to paint from looking at a photograph. Now I enjoy different perceptions, playing with empty spaces, soft shapes and dualities. Sometimes I rotate the canvas just to see what that brings!”
For Fagan, abstract art offers great freedom. “I begin with very free and quick marks of overlapping shapes in paint and artists' crayons in various colors while I'm looking at something. I'm really just dividing up the canvas in an interesting way. My reference might be a still life, a portion of an old painting or a photograph from a trip. I might turn the canvas 90 degrees and make some more marks. I don't have an outcome in mind. Then I put my reference away and simply respond. I try not to think, but just enjoy painting and combining colors and values, big shapes and small shapes. Then I walk away, let it dry, and leave it to rest.” When she returns, she allows herself to think. She repeats her mantra, “I will not be afraid to make changes. It is just paint.” And then she allows her vision to evolve.
This hard-earned freedom is currently fueling Fagan’s abstract exploration, and she is loving every minute of it. Her paintings may take weeks to complete as she allows herself to scrape away unwanted paint and keep pushing forward with new compositions and mixed colors until she’s satisfied. “It’s usually a long road and then all of a sudden it just works,” says Fagan with the deep knowing that comes with having lived a full life and grown as both a person and an artist.
In addition to her ongoing path to abstraction, Fagan is relishing the sense of expansion she’s experiencing by producing much larger paintings. She continues to warm up with smaller pieces that she affectionately refers to as snacks, but Fagan is loving the larger format. Responding more to what she’s seeing on her canvas than working to recreate an exact image, Fagan’s creativity is limitless, as her most recent body of work reflects. Becoming is one of a series of abstracted forest landscapes that has not only won “Best in Show” at the Blue Ridge Art Center in Seneca but has also been accepted into the annual Georgia Watercolor Society International Juried Exhibition. “We live in a forested area and my eye is drawn to the negative shapes I see as the branches overlap each other,” enthuses Fagan, eager to return to her easel and capture the patterns of her imagination.
Entering ever new realms of her own work, this prolific artist pushes through the frustrating moments, knowing that growth comes from both perseverance and a willingness to let go. “My latest piece is always my new favorite,” she says. Fagan’s fearless creative process reminds us to keep moving past life’s challenges, knowing we will enter a new phase and learn about ourselves and our world. This way of living takes faith, courage and commitment, all of which Fagan exudes.
Finding her way to the mountains of Western North Carolina was its own evolution. The Winter Park, Florida native spent many childhood summers at camp in the Pisgah Forest and fell in love with the area, hoping it would someday be home. Fagan remembers waking up in the mountains after coming to visit friends as a freshman in college and seeing snow for the very first time. She was beyond delighted. Eight years later, Fagan and her husband Bill honeymooned in that very same home, and although family and business kept them in Florida for forty years, her dream was fulfilled in 2016 when Fagan and her husband moved to the serenity of Lake Keowee. Here, the seasonal colors and tranquil nature provide more inspiration for her art and a gentler pace of life. “Art doesn’t need to be provocative or make headlines to be good,” shares Fagan. “To me, it’s important to create harmony and bring joy through my work.” After all, what could be more powerful than awakening to the beauty that is before us?
Edie Fagan’s artwork can be viewed at Whiteside Art Gallery in Cashiers or at www.ediefagan.com.