Dangerous Minds pal, the great painter, Joe Coleman, has a rare New York art show currently hanging at the prestigious Dickinson New York gallery on the Upper East Side. Only a fool or a philistine in the NYC-area would pass up the chance to see Joe’s work in person, including the new 7-feet tall self-portrait—which took three years to paint—described in the below article from the Wall Street Journal (Trust me, during the last big NYC Coleman exhibit in 2006, on the final day of the show, I hobbled on a train from NJ with crutches and then painfully grimaced as I took ever single step to the gallery and back home. Was it worth it? YOU BET IT WAS WORTH IT!):
The images, which occupy dozens of amorphous panels, veer from the sweetly sentimental—the cartoon bunnies and kittens that fill his wife Whitney Ward’s bedtime thoughts—to nightmarish visions grotesque enough to evoke both 1950s EC Comics and 15th-century Hieronymous Bosch. It’s a phantasmagorical kaleidoscope that grows hypnotic with its minute detail.
“You almost feel like you’re being sucked into it,” Mr. Coleman said. The work, “A Doorway to Joe,” is the centerpiece of “Joe Coleman: Auto-Portrait,” an exhibit opening Thursday at Dickinson New York gallery on the Upper East Side. “You spend too much time, you get what [Italian filmmaker] Dario Argento depicted in ‘The Stendhal Syndrome.’ You ever see that one? It’s this idea that staring at the paintings would make certain people feel like they become part of the painting.”
Mr. Coleman can appreciate that scenario. He’s lived the painting. Once notorious for his literally explosive performance-art spectacles, which occasionally made the New York City police logs in the 1970s and ‘80s, he has increasingly been lauded for his paintings. In 2007, he was feted at one-man shows in Paris and Berlin, cutting a figure Ms. Ward, an actress and photographer, described as “Part Tammany Hall, part Wild West—he’s a handsome and omniscient walking ghost of old America.”
Not long after the exhibit at Berlin’s KW Institute, Mr. Coleman had a chat with his patron, the collector Mickey Cartin, who agreed to buy “Doorway” in advance, mindful that it would take three years to complete. Mr. Coleman finished roughly one square inch of space each day, using a jeweler’s lens to magnify and discover “the spaces between the spaces I’d already painted.” It was a laborious task, one that often entailed brushes with as few as two horse hairs. “It puts the pain back in painting,” he said. “I use my pinkie to balance the whole rest of my wrist. And you have to hold your breath as well while you’re doing it.”
The concept of suffering is indivisible from Mr. Coleman’s desire to make art. His first pieces were drawings made during services at St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church in his native Norwalk, Conn. “My mom gave me a pad and crayons and a pencil,” he recalled, “and around the church are these scenes of Christ being crowned with thorns and crucified. I just started drawing them. The only crayon I used was the red crayon with the blood. The subject matter has not really changed that much,” he said. “I’m still struggling with these ideas of good and evil, and this idea that there’s something holy in violence. That’s the essence I was spoonfed from childhood.”
Mr. Cartin, in whose loft the work usually hangs—in the company of contemporary and 15th- and 16th-century art—first met Mr. Coleman 20 years ago, when the artist was driving a cab. “I simply believed in him, not only as a totally lovable and eccentric character, but as a very committed artist,” Mr. Cartin said. “He asks so much of himself, and it shows in the way his work has evolved. He is a painter-storyteller, and the stories are not easy. He loves his work, but each painting is a significant internal struggle for him. He keeps no secrets.”
That’s true in conversation, as well. Mr. Coleman, who projects a personal warmth that balances his psychic intensity, recounted the story behind one of the panels, an image of a “Jap Hand,” chopped off a Japanese soldier by an American serviceman in World War II. As a boy, Mr. Coleman became an expert at breaking into a locked cabinet in his father’s den. On one such occasion, while his father was out drinking at a bar, he found more than he bargained for lurking in a stash of pornography and military mementos. “It was this picture of a GI holding the head of a Japanese soldier, kind of proudly, and when I looked at it more closely I saw that it was my father.”
Some things, once seen, can never be unseen. And that’s exactly what Mr. Coleman wants to show. “It’s like an archeological dig,” he said, “but internally.”
The Walking Ghost of Old America: Cartoon Kittens, Serial Killers, Lovers and Literary Lions: Joe Coleman Paints a Journey Through His Labyrinthine Mind (WSJ)
Joe Coleman’s incredible portrait of Harry Houdini is on display at the Jewish Museum’s exhibit, Houdini: Art and Magic until March 27th, 2011.
Thank you, Whitney Ward!
Posted by Richard Metzger |