Ed Welch: Signs

7 September - 9 October 2010
Press release

Ricco/Maresca is pleased to announce the opening of “Ed Welch: Signs,” the first-ever New York gallery showing of the works of the self-taught American artist John Edward Welch. A 93-year-old, Florida-based, retired sign painter, Welch makes mixed-media, collage-like paintings that combine images of famous subjects—cultural and historic figures such as Frederick Douglass, Duke Ellington, Ethel Waters and Stevie Wonder—and his own observations and pronouncements about society’s ills and humanity’s foibles.


Ed Welch was brought up in rural North Carolina, where, as a child, he worked on a farm. Later, with his mother, the adolescent Welch moved to New York and settled in Harlem. To make up for the poor elementary-school education he had received in the South, Welch threw himself into reading in order to catch up with his classmates, establishing a lifelong love of words and reading that is reflected in his art. As a youth, Welch learned sign-painting techniques and entered the trade. Later, he served in the military in both World War II and the Korean War. For many years, he lived and worked in Virginia; more recently, he has been based in Florida.

Exuberant, colorful and multi-textured, each of Welch’s mixed-media paintings is a mini-spectacle conveying snippets of social commentary and plain-spoken philosophy that reflect the artist’s voice-of-experience and engaged—but never weary—view of the world. (Belligerent nations should always seek “a peaceful solution, without military force,” one of his works once advised. In another, an homage to Douglass, Welch once wrote matter-of-factly: “We need you.”) 


In 2008, Welch told a newspaper interviewer: “If something strikes me in the middle of the night while I’m lying in bed, I just jump up and start painting.” One of the most exciting new discoveries in the field of self-taught art, Welch’s vibrant work is sure to attract both admirers of contemporary folk art and aficionados of unexpected—and completely unwitting—forms of postmodernist, pop-cultural expression, wherever they may arise.

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