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Edgar Ewing; 93; Artist, Former USC Professor

July 15, 2006|Mary Rourke | Times Staff Writer

Edgar Ewing, an artist who was known for his Cubist-inspired paintings and also taught art at USC for 32 years, died July 3. He was 93.

He died at his home in Los Angeles of coronary artery disease that led to cardiac arrest, his physician, Dr. William Corey, said this week.

Ewing's works -- often painted as part of a series -- had themes ranging from the Greek Acropolis to the annual Rose Parade in Pasadena.

Though he was never considered a radical, one of his paintings, "Rosecrans at Chickamauga," created a stir in 1952 when it was displayed at the Los Angeles County Museum, now the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

The painting showed a Civil War soldier who "seemed to emerge from a background of smears and spikes of bright color," a Los Angeles Times reviewer wrote of the work.

Though it won first prize for an oil painting in a judged show at the museum, the work was removed after outspoken critics complained.

"It was during the Red scare," recalled Ruth Weisberg, dean of the USC Roski School of Fine Arts. "Edgar wasn't a Communist, but the painting's red color was mistakenly thought to refer to Communism," she said.

At times, Ewing played with Dadaist humor in his art. One series of paintings about San Francisco that he exhibited avoided the postcard cliches. Instead, "the impish artist" accented the city's fog, sprawling waves and "the march of buildings up the hills," a Times reviewer wrote in 1956.

Another work, "Spark Plug Caryatids" of 1977, was Ewing's response to the smog in Athens, where he kept an art studio for many years.

Troubled by the damaging effects of air pollution on the city's ancient architecture, Ewing painted four spark plugs replacing the four stone maidens standing in front of a Greek temple.

"Certain characteristics remain constant," art critic William Wilson wrote of Ewing's work in a Times review in 1956. "The most crucial is his sense of humor. It can produce an abrasive, wall-eyed Dadaistic challenge."

Born Jan. 17, 1913, in Hartington, Neb., Ewing graduated from the Art Institute of Chicago in 1935 and joined the faculty there after traveling in Europe to study art.

During World War II he served in the Army, which stationed him in China and Burma from 1943 to 1946. At the end of his military service he joined the faculty at USC and rose from assistant professor to full professor of art. He retired from USC in 1978 and was named an emeritus professor.

Ewing took a leave of absence from teaching in 1964 to be an artist in residence at the American Academy in Rome, and taught art at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh for a year in the late 1960s.

Ewing exhibited in solo shows at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, the National Art Gallery in Athens, the Fisher Gallery at USC and elsewhere.

His wife, Suzanna Giovan, died in 2005. They had no children.

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