Artist in Focus: Elliot Coatney's Museum Series

Elliot Coatney has done it again. He never ceases to dazzle UGallery with his whimsical scenes from everyday life. With his most recent series,  Elliot explores his art by way of art. Whenever he gets the chance to see art in museums and other art institutions, he does. He has a fascination for the way art is displayed and presented. Since Elliot just completed the series, we caught up with him to ask him some questions.

Tell us about your recent work. What inspired you to make it? What was your first piece in the series and what was the last…or are you still working on it?

Living in the Appalachian Mountains, I don’t get to visit art museums without considerable effort and expense. A lot of the art I see is in books or online. The printed and digital image allows so many people like me to see great works of art, but there’s no substitute for the real thing. So when I get the rare chance to see world-class art in person, it’s a particularly powerful experience. This latest series explores that experience. At the same time, this series considers the institutions that shape the ways we experience art–even what art we experience. As much as we like to think we have our own uniquely developed personal tastes in art, these tastes are certainly influenced by powerful individuals and institutions and their tastes. I’m not saying that’s necessarily bad, just worth considering. Finally, there’s an established history in art of “messing with the canon.”  Basquiat sampled Mona Lisa; Norman Rockwell sampled Jackson Pollock; Matisse sampled his own work, and so on. I’m fascinated by these conversations, and it was fun for me to join in.

The first piece in the series was Diebenkorn in DC which I’ve also called View of Oakland in DC because that was the name of Diebenkorn’s painting represented in my painting. I was on a brief visit to DC and had a chance to run in the Smithsonian American Art Museum. I turned a corner and very unexpectedly encountered this painting. Diebenkorn is one my all time favorite artists but I honestly haven’t seen a lot of his work in person. It was a real thrill seeing that one. As an aside, all my paintings in the series include figures. The figures generally have little detail. I didn’t want the figures to stand out–I wanted them to be somewhat anonymous so that they can represent any one of us. I don’t know that I’ve painted the last piece in the series yet. I’m satisfied with the series as it is, but I might add to it.

Do you have a favorite from the series?
My favorite might be Rauschenberg in NYC. His monumental installation using essentially just newspaper clippings is both art and historical document. It was fun, funny, and rewarding for me to turn that piece and that idea around in a smaller painting that combined my own loose style of painting with a totally different and contemporary set of newspaper clippings.

How does this series expand your artistic style. What have you learned along the way?

I’m not sure if this series expanded my artistic style so much as it gave me an opportunity to explore and develop an idea and not just an image.