LOS ANGELES — In sacred geometry, the “vesica piscis” symbol describes the almond shape nestled between two overlapping identical circles. The symbol, one of the oldest in the world, recurs across all cultures and faiths, and pops up frequently in religious paintings, architecture, and nature. It is often associated with divine femininity, birth, spiritual crossroads, sexuality, and unity. In Christianity, the fish-like shape represents Jesus of Nazareth. For the ancient Greeks and Romans, the circles corresponded to their mythological goddesses, Aphrodite and Venus. In more esoteric readings, the almond shape symbolizes a portal to the universe and/or a higher power. No matter the context, what’s fascinating about the vesica piscis is that it involves a joining of two or more energies that results in the creation of a third source, a door that leads to another realm, and by extension, a different way of being.
Los Angeles-based painter June Edmonds takes inspiration from the multiple inflections of the vesica pisces. Known for her large, abstract paintings depicting vibrant energetic wheels and neutral flags, Edmonds draws upon her meditation practice and American history — often highlighting the undertold chronicles of Black Americans — to create works that slow the viewer down, encouraging us to contemplate the myriad energies (and histories) coursing all around us.
June Edmonds: Full Spectrum, a solo exhibition curated by Karen Rapp at Loyola Marymount University’s Laband Art Gallery, spans 40 years of the artist’s career and provides an efficient crash course for anyone new to Edmonds’s work. Beginning with her early figurative paintings (done when she was an undergrad at San Diego State University in the ’80s), the exhibition charts Edmonds’s move from figuration towards abstraction, as her early portraits of friends and family morphed into thick, impasto shapes that obliquely signaled personal and historical narratives.
“Contrast” (1982), for instance, depicts two women passing the time in a bright living room. Little details stick out: one woman’s feathered curls, the green heel of the other friend, the creamy texture of the green foliage framed by the window. Even in these diaristic pieces, you can see flashes of her later work. “Contrast” balances the soft and brisk strokes used for the faces and foliage with the sharp geometric patterns used for the rug and drapes. Edmonds cites Romare Bearden, Varnette Honeywood, Jacob Lawrence, and David Hockney as a few of her inspirations during that time. She loved how these artists embraced and subsumed the elements of abstraction, which pushed Edmonds to be “more expressive with my figuration,” she explained to Hyperallergic during a phone call.
After attending two artist residencies in 1997, Edmonds began loosening up her practice, leaning into her improvisational impulses. “[I] took all the color out, took all the figuration out and just started from the ground up,” she said. Around that time, she created swirling charcoal works that announced her desire to reset and explore a different visual language. Here, the absence of figures pushes the viewer to notice the trembling line marks or the whirling energy contained between dark and light.
“With the black and white [drawings] I really tried to get in a place where there was no figuration and the drawings were only about an idea, whatever it was at the time, or an emotion,” Edmonds said. As she began introducing color, her painting process slowed down and her focus shifted to “creating … energetic compositions with just line and movement and shape and value.” This pensive approach gave Edmonds the space to explore how color, movement, and repetition could double as gateways to spiritual introspection and personal connection. These experiments eventually developed into her circle series, or Energy Wheels.
“Gee’s Jungle” (2012), which recalls both Gee’s Bend quilts and the Adinkra symbols, drains the canvas of people, replacing figures with a brightly colored web of overlapping, concentric circles. The circles are composed of thick cylindrical marks that alternate between hues of aquamarine, crimson, eggplant, and blush. Some circles roll into each other, creating moments of spontaneous linkage. Since she embarked on her Energy Wheel series, Edmonds has been “drawn to where those circles overlap and what could be done in that particular area.” “Unina” (2017) hones in on that almond-space of the vesica pisces. The impasto markings are organized around a vertical stripe in the middle of the canvas, resembling an auric field of muted primary colors.
Edmonds’s paintings invite us to step back from the physical realm, not in an effort to escape its thorny textures, but in order to realize the other narratives existing alongside us — the intangible, the metaphysical, the ancestral.
June Edmonds: Full Spectrum continues at Loyola Marymount University’s Laband Art Gallery (Burns Fine Arts Center, 1 LMU Drive, Westchester, Los Angeles) through February 20, 22. The exhibition was curated by Karen Rapp.