Island artist displays playful paintings in library gallery
Edwin Roche, a Korean War veteran who has lived in Jamestown for 14 years, is the man responsible for the library’s latest display. Roche, who is 83 years old, became interested in art as a child in the 1940s. But it wasn’t until his retirement in 1995 when he found the time to really pursue his passion.
Roche grew up in Providence and Cranston. He got a liberal arts degree from the University of Rhode Island and then joined the Army and fought in Korea. After his stint in the military, Roche returned to college and studied journalism at Boston University. He was hired by the Providence Journal following graduate school.
Roche then went to work for major publishers in New York, including Dell. While working at Prentiss Hall, one of the country’s leading education publishers, he was recruited by the Ford Foundation. Roche was sent to India for two years to establish a market for paperback books in the southern part of the country.
Roche is a self-taught artist who always wanted to paint but could never find the time. He had founded a prominent Connecticut advertising firm, and work monopolized his time.
It wasn’t until the end of his advertising career that Roche was determined to finally fulfill his lifelong desire: he moved to Jamestown, rented a studio and began painting every day – weekends and holidays included.
“When I retired I said to myself that I’ve always wanted to do this, so I’ll try it. I got myself a studio and started to paint.”
These days Roche has a studio at Shady Lea Mill in Wickford. In the past there were more painters at the mill, and Roche says he enjoyed the “cross-pollination” between the artists who found inspiration from one another’s work. These days there aren’t as many painters at the Shady Lea Mill, but Roche still enjoys the company of the artists who work in other disciplines there.
While he used to paint six hours every day, he has reduced that to about four hours.
“Painting is a wonderful pastime and hobby,” Roche said. “If you get in the zone while you’re painting, you forget about time, your troubles, and everything else.”
Over the years, Roche has painted a little bit of everything, from portraits to landscapes. These days he focuses on still life – it’s easier to set up his subjects in the studio, he says. Roche has also been known to offer satirical commentary through his paintings, ranging from Wall Street’s boom and bust cycles, to America’s involvement in foreign conflicts.
According to Roche, he has one particular painting that makes a rather pointed observation. He said he created the work a few years ago and could have sold it several times. The painting depicts an American flag formally folded as it is after covering the casket of U.S. military personnel. Juxtaposed with the flag is a piece of apple pie that mimics the triangular shape of the folded flag.
The painting hangs in his studio at Shady Lea and can be seen when the mill holds its annual open house on the first full weekend in December.
Roche calls himself a “painterly realist.” He points to Spanish artist Diego Velazquez as a prime influence on his work. Other artists he admires come from what is known as the “golden age of American illustration” – they include Dean Cornwell, N.C. Wyeth and Norman Rockwell.
“People like that were very skillful painters,” Roche said. “Some of what they did was sentimental, and a lot of it was just illustration of books, but they were talented painters. I liked the way they worked.”
Roche’s show in the lobby of the library includes eight still-life oil paintings. Subjects range from a toy hippopotamus that Roche found at the dump in Jamestown, to a battered WWII Red Cross aid kit that he found in a junk shop in Wickford. One painting that he calls “Stars & Stripes” depicts a Macy’s bag that carries a patriotic theme with an American flag placed in the bag.
“I painted the two of them together,” Roche said. “They’re similar objects and I explored the relationship between the two of them.”
Roche said he hopes people who look at his work will recognize the sense of play in it, and appreciate the quality of his art.