If you’re one to spend a Saturday night perusing creative pieces and pondering the deeper meaning of a painting, then you must be familiar with Walker Fine Art in the heart of downtown Denver.
The loft style gallery has been a staple of the local art community since 2002— bringing in artists from all corners, works of all mediums and no shortage of creativity. Now, on the heels of its 15th anniversary, Walker Fine Art is kicking off their 2018 exhibition with UNCANNY — a collection of strange, quirky and mysterious pieces sure to have you asking yourself “where, why and how” did the artist put that together. We sat down with on featured artist Carol Coates and get the inside scoop on all things UNCANNY, open now through March 10.
303 Magazine: How have your roots impacted your artwork?
Carol Coates: I was born in Michigan, at the end of a dead-end road with nothing to do. So I passed the time by putting together things in the workshop, my dad’s workshop. From making sculptures to getting out my box of crayons, I developed a strong desire to have more colors in the box, more tools in the workshop, and a strong sense of creativity.
The area that I grew up in was conservative, very judgmental and not very trusting of people who were different. In fact there was a certain amount of injustice that I saw around me and that influenced my work. My mother also heavily influenced me in that I had a knee-jerk reaction to something that she said to me when I was very young. She said, “the trouble with you Carol is that you’re not creative.” I took that as a challenge.
303: I can see by looking at some of your current work, where that influence of observing prejudice is reflected. Tell me more about your current series in the UNCANNY exhibit? What was your inspiration?
CC: Yeah, that influence from my younger years definitely impacted this series, and that’s why I’m especially excited about it. I’m witnessing globally, a theme of people not trusting those who look or act different. I’m witnessing people not tolerating someone else’s opinion or being suspicious of anyone who wears a certin headdress, people with tattoos etc. So these pieces in the “MindsEye” series really relate to that.
303: As for the people represented in each work of art, are they real humans that you met or did you invent these characters?
CC: Not all of them are real, some are created combinations of people that I’ve found and met. For example the older woman with the dreadlocks; her eyes are not her own and I borrowed her hair from someone else. I did, however, keep her chin whiskers and her smirk. On the other hand, the woman with the snakes in her hair, Ozzy, is real. I met Ozzy, who identifies as a woman, at a cosmetic counter. I spoke with her about the fact that some of my work has to do with gender issues and gender identity, to which she strongly related. Ozzy, to me, was beautiful in an unusual way.
303: Some have called you a pioneer of mixed media, how do you identify with that? And what mediums did you utilize in this series?
CC: I’m not a pioneer in mixed media but I am a pioneer of mixing photo-digital imagery with traditional media. This current series utilizes acrylics, UV curated inks that are printed with a flatbed printer in equal measure. There is a lot of hand-done painting in the “MindsEye” series that is not obvious, because I’m good at it, but it’s there. The medium, nonetheless, has always been secondary to the meaning.
303: What was your impact goal with the “MindsEye” series? And why the title, “MindsEye?”
CC: I was going for extremes. These people are not the norm. They’re not the average stereotype and they beg the question… actually two questions. One, how does the observer perceive and feel about them? And two, how does the person in the painting perceive and feel about the observer? I wanted to challenge peoples idea of normal with this series.
The whole meaning of “MindsEye” has to do with how we see the world. I started with the glasses, I welded those by hand and was completely unsure of what to do with them for years, they just sat collecting dust. One day I realized that those glasses that I had welded wanted to be part of something bigger and I decided, yes, they’re going to become part of these images of people and they’re going to have something to do with how these people see the world and how we see. So it has to do with their mindset and life through their mind’s eye.
303: Do you happen to have a favorite piece from this collection? Or a piece that you most relate to?
CC: You know, each piece is like one of my children and I love each for different reasons and in different ways. They each speak to me in a different way, so no I don’t have a favorite. I suppose I most relate to the old woman. She’s determined, vulnerable and she’s a woman of a certain age like I am. I look at life a little differently now than I did when I was younger but boy, I am determined, and that’s how I see her.
303: You’re joining us from your base in Santa Fe, New Mexico. What about Santa Fe drew you to call it home? And do you see yourself in Denver in the future?
CC: I attended a photo digital workshop in Santa Fe in 2000, and I liked how it made me feel. I liked the diversity, the sunshine and the concentration of creative people. Santa Fe encourages people to be as unusual as they want to be and that was very freeing for me. I also met the love of my life in Santa Fe so that’s been a bonus.
As far as Denver goes, my daughter and son both live here with their families. I’ve been visiting Denver for years and years. Right now I am feeling settled in Santa Fe, however I’ve always felt that Denver would somehow be in my future.
303: Speaking of Denver, what drew you to Bobbi Walker and Walker Fine Art? Why did you choose to display your works with Walker?
CC: Bobbi comes from the world of business, but she has such a strong appreciation for visual art and she thinks outside the box. She’s willing to take risks. And becuase of that I was drawn to Walker Fine Art and am very happy to be showing there and working with her. She has my respect.
303: Your exhibit is open to the public at Walker Fine Art, so what do you hope those who come observe it take away from your work?
CC: I hope that people will love the work. I hope that they will connect with the work and I hope that they will consider investing in the work. I’m happy to make the work. Part of the reason that I make the work is with the hope that I make that connection with someone else, a heart connection and a spirit connection, that’s very important to me. I can’t think of much of a deeper purpose for art myself than to connect to others.
The UNCANNY exhibit is open to the public now through March 10 at Walker Fine Art, 300 West 11th Avenue, #A, Denver, Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. For more information on the exhibit or Coates series check the site out here.