Chapter 12: ASSASSINATION: Jon Coffelt, Artist Represented by AMMO and Haydn Shaughnessy Gallery and Curator
Portrait of Jon Coffelt. Courtesy of Facebook.
qi peng: To start off on a lighter note, what are some of your favorite artists, books, television shows, sports, art magazines, toys, movies, and other cultural artifacts that you wish to share with your fans of your work here?
Jon Coffelt: I try not to take myself too seriously but I am quite serious about my work.. I make the best work I possibly can every time I make work.
In no particular order
Books: “To Kill A Mocking Bird” by Harper Lee, “Confederacy of Dunces,” John Kennedy Toole, “Geek Love,” by Katherine Dunn, “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man,” by James Joyce, “Wuthering Heights,” by Emily Bronte and “The Vampire Chronicles” by Anne Rice
Music in no particular order: Everything from Bluegrass to Opera.
Radiohead, Johnny Cash, Fischerspooner, Bill Monroe, Luciano Pavarotti, Journey, Bjork, Matt Alber, Enrico Caruso, Maria Callas, Lisa Lizard, Adele, Marianne Faithfull, Kate Bush, Erasure, Barbra Streisand, 40s Show tunes, Madonna, Peter Murphy, The Sisters of Mercy, Front 242, Skinny Puppy, The Smashing Pumpkins, R.E.M., U2, Jill Scott, Prince, Michael Jackson, 10,000 Maniacs, The Pogues, AC/DC, The White Stripes, Judy Collins, Carly Simon, Fleetwood Mac, Janet Jackson, Carole King, Nancy Lamont, Queen, Duran Duran, Pet Shop Boys, Bigod 20, Frank Sinatra, Diamonda Gallas,
Well you asked.
qi peng: Do you have any recent galleries or exhibitions that you have seen and would to recommend to us? What things in those shows inspired your artistic eye and tastes?
The exhibition featured over 80 works of sculpture, photography, painting, prints, drawings, video, and design objects selected and installed by Vik Muniz in a narrative sequence to create surprising juxtapositions and new meanings. Included were John Baldessari, Gordon Matta-Clark, Nan Goldin, Marcel Duchamp, Pablo Picasso, Eugène Atget, Edward Ruscha and Rachel Whiteread among many others. Design objects ranged from a wooden pencil to a kitchen pail to a Rubik’s Cube to finally, an Exit sign. http://www.moma.org/visit/calendar/exhibitions/304 This was so refreshing for me to rethink the box so to speak. Anything and everything lined up and labeled and sequenced to look at each object as a way to resolve inner meaning within each piece of work.
qi peng: What was your childhood like in Tennessee where you were born?
Jon Coffelt: Lets start out at the very beginning. I was born in a small southern town in East Tennessee. I grew up in the mountains close by. At age 8 my grandfather taught me to paint. He made me paint nature and things I could see. He told me that once I had a good understanding of this that I could paint in a more abstract manner if I chose. Painting about my feelings and expressing myself in a more internal way but I did have to understand nature first. I was a loner and spent so much time reading as a child. I would go along on deer hunting trips with my grandfather only to stay in the truck with my florescent orange vest on reading a book and watching the deer he was looking for walk about.
I have always had the most respect for artists who were technically sound. Artists I love run the gamut and I like them all for various reasons.
qi peng: How did those events influence your interest in art?
Jon Coffelt: My grandfather grew up in an invironment that did not allow him to explore things around him. His family work ethic was so important that from daylight to dark he toiled in the fields. Once he married my grandmother, he decided that he would explore art, music, flowers, cooking and other things he was not exposed to as a child. He was 40 when I was born and I was with him much of the time. He was retired from work at an early age and spent much time building things and making paintings and growing enormous rose gardens. He was my mentor. Once I told my parents and grandparents I wanted to be an artist when I grew up, they fully supported my decision to do so. For this I am enormously grateful.
qi peng: What is your opinion of art world journalism?
Jon Coffelt: Most art journalism is just descriptive nowadays. I find more interesting art information on blogs.
qi peng: Do you read periodicals such as ArtForum or ARTnews to get an up to date understanding of what goes on within the art world?
Jon Coffelt: I do but I feel that not being a star artist, these periodicals are limiting in so many ways. I want to get the jest of what is happening but I just dont care to hear about the same 25 artists month after month. It gets old. Most of these articles are forgettable and have little to do with an artists daily life and practice. I do like to know what is going on but the last few years it is just about art fairs and not about the art itself. Rarely do any of these articles stay with me for any length of time. I hope that now with the economy what it is, artists will go back to do what they do best and that is making great work. On the other hand, I would love to be a fly on the wall at the Roberta Smith and Jerry Saltz household.
qi peng: Do you have any favorite artistic blogs or websites that you enjoy looking at on a regular basis?
qi peng: Do you feel that smaller, regional art markets like Nashville or Salt Lake City will have a chance to expand their horizons into becoming essential and vibrant art hot spots just like Los Angeles or New York City? What do you think is the current state of contemporary art within the Manhattan area where you are located? Is it difficult to sell conceptual art in the form of fiber art and challenging-looking paintings to the public, particularly during this slow economy?
Jon Coffelt: There are a few artists around who continue to make a living doing art. My sales are still steady with the miniature work but not larger pieces and in talking with other artists their sales are similar. It seems that while we still sell art, we are not selling major pieces at this time but I am sure things will change for the better soon. I am looking at this current economic downturn to be a paradign shakeup of extraneous gallerists and artists. Those who are in it for the wrong reasons will simply leave the market.
In this technically advanced age of MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn, TheWhole9 and many on-line art forums and blogs, artists can live anywhere they please. I think cities like Nashville and Salt lake City will never be as important as New York or Los Angeles but in this same vein, these mid-size cities are essential to the development and exhibition opportunities to artists in all stages of their careers. Nashville and Salt Lake City are viable venues because they are educating the public about art. We need to know what is going on in New York and Los Angeles as well as Barcelona, Berlin, London, Paris, Hong Kong, Kyoto, Tokyo, Shanghai, Dubai, Rio, Cape Town and Johannesburg. Several mid-size cities are gaining much notice and recognition for their arts education programs. Chattanooga and New Orleans come to mind with their recent citywide arts programming. Many of the larger cities are beginning to have art fairs and biennials of their own drawing much attention to their viability as art hubs such as Miami’s Art Basel and New Orleans‘ Prospect.1.
qi peng: How do you feel that the current economic recession impacted the contemporary art market and way that it functions in the larger national economy?
Jon Coffelt: Many of the galleries have closed already and many have merged to keep the doors open. Many have shuffled their artists and many are rethinking their programming altogether. There were many galleries that seemed rather impersonal but have warmed up to the occasional visitor. Galleries with good reputations will be just fine but some who put all of their eggs in the same basket have not done so wonderfully. If they don’t have money to fall back on we will see another wave of gallery closings and mergers soon.
qi peng: Do you feel that artists will be pursuing more personal and intimate projects than the overly commercial work, typically geared for the art fairs, during the upcoming years?
Jon Coffelt: Artists will be more intimate and personal with their work as this happens each and every time we have had a downturn. As this current downturn is severe, I suspect it will take us to a much more intimate place than we are used to as a community. One of the most exciting things happening now is this sense of the experiential in work and how we can reach out in work and engage the viewer in a much more personal way. The viewers can become collaborators.
The major art fairs, with few exceptions, have peaked as of 2006. I don’t know if this is good or bad but I do think that galleries will regroup and reconsider their choices in artists.
qi peng: How do you think that galleries and non-profits will be coping with the dramatic shifts within the political and corporate culture, particularly in America?
Jon Coffelt: Many of the galleries who invested so much effort, time and money in the current young MFAs have lost much ground. Many have closed and many more are having to reconsider their programming and direction. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/25/arts/design/25now.html?ref=design I feel that Roberta Smith was correct to give a sound thrashing to all but a few of these artists. She went so far as to ask some of them to ask for their money back from these MFA programs they attended. So many of these younger artists are just not as technically sound as a seasoned artists work is. Self-education and self-knowledge are what an artist needs to create great work and this only comes with time. Collectors, too, sense this in a piece of work no matter how much it is lauded. A seasoned artist has a quality that can only comes with time. Investors are still willing to invest in something they feel is sound. Seasoned artists offer this. Galleries need to wake up or close up shop and art schools need to figure out if they are actually running Ponzi schemes.
qi peng: Do you have any thoughts about the current state of the stock market and its concomitant corruption? Any thoughts on the Obama administration in relation to your viewpoint on history, social identity, and the arts scene?
Jon Coffelt: I was just reading today a report http://www.nea.gov/recovery/grants/NEA-ARRA-grants-to-states-regions.html stating the amount of money each of the states arts council will be receiving from the stimulus package. This would never have happened under a Bush or even McCain administration. If all of these hypocrites would get out of the way maybe we can see some real change.
As far as history, social identity and the arts scene, We will do what we have always done. We will thrive but in a different way. Artists will create alternative ways to have income streams. There will be shifts in what is the most viable forms of art. The last downturn gave us installation and performance art and I am excited as to what will come about this time. I suspect this new form of art will be experiential meaning this will be about experiencing art work and will have a communal effect where the viewer becomes more like a participant and not just a viewer. Global arts initiatives will be part of this new movement.
qi peng: Are there any restaurants or hangouts such as bookstores and fabric stores around Manhattan or anywhere else that you wish to recommend us? What are the qualities that you enjoy best about the places that you have chosen?
Jon Coffelt: My favorite restaurant in Manhattan is “Buddakan” as its decor is eye candy and the food is sublime especially the edamame with white truffle oil. My second favorite is Edward’s because this is where my art group meets. Edwards is having a Tuesday Art Night and we like to hang out with the other artists there. “Fada” is my favorite restaurant in Brooklyn not only for the food but the decor is out of a French countryside with mismatched chairs and antique bar mirrors. Tons of fabrics stores in the garment district with all kinds of cloth and notions keep me busy there. “The Thing” on Manhattan Avenue in Greenpoint is full of second-hand clothing with a basement full of vinyl record albums. It’s where all the good DJs go to find music to sample from. There, I get to look into the flat-files full of thousands of discarded photos, black and white photography, Ektachrome, Polaroids, albumen prints, old photo albums, group school photos and either unwanted or lost vacation photos. I always wonder who these people are or were creating abject realities looking over the various photos.
These places are stimulating in many ways.
qi peng: With the small clothing project, you have completed over 350 commissions with taking the original clothing and reducing the scale by hand without a single use of a machine. What was the origin of the idea?
Jon Coffelt: My partner, Shawn bought a new shirt and after a couple of times wearing it, he had an ink blow-out in the pocket which ruined the shirt. For some reason, I told him I would fix it but rather than try to get the stain out which would have been an impossibility, I decided to just use the shirt itself and make a small replica of it in the process.
qi peng: In what way is this particular series a type of portrait of the person that corresponds to the certain apparel?
Jon Coffelt: What we choose to wear is a signifier to society of how we view ourselves. What we wear and the sorts of decisions we make about it allow us unique insight to the inner working of the individual. Each piece I work on is an exact replica of its original to exacting detail. I use the large left sleeve for the miniature left sleeve from it. I use the right sleeve to make the small right sleeve, the original collar for the small on and so forth. When you touch the small replica you are in effect, touching it in the same place as it’s original.
qi peng: What is your opinion on juried competitions such as New American Paintings or Hey, Hot Shot! and curated artists registries such as The Drawing Center‘s Viewing Program in the development of a young artist’s career?
Jon Coffelt: I think they are quite helpful to bring the public’s attention to these artists work. I was in New American Paintings #34 some years back and I feel it was helpful for my work.
Artist registries are helpful if you know they are being utilized. Many are inactive and sometimes databases are not updated the way they should be.
qi peng: Do you feel that being judged by “officials” or “art referees” help to create a strong reputation for the artist’s work?
Jon Coffelt: Not really. I do think that sometimes they can give an artist a false sense of security. Judging artwork is so subjective. Judges are just people involved with lots of unknown baggage. Artist never know what a judge is looking for or what will get them selected.
qi peng: What elements do you think are necessary to make a particular artwork strong and communicative?
Jon Coffelt: I do not know the answer to this question. With myself, I feel the work has to be genuine and authentic and has to speak to me. I feel if I went about trying to accomplish a piece with elements to make it stronger and more communicative then it would surely fail due to all the pressures I would impose upon it.
qi peng: What are some of your hobbies outside of painting and fiber arts?
Jon Coffelt: Besides going to galleries, art museums and reading about art, my hobbies would be rather bland to most people. I love being with my family and friends, I love my ArtGroup. They keep me on my toes, I like going out to eat at different places and listening to every kind of music imaginable. Oh and crossword puzzles and taking long walks around the city with my partner, Shawn and our two dogs.
qi peng: How do these things relate to your studio practice?
Jon Coffelt: Being in this city that has a life of its own is a never ending influend=ce on my studio practice. Believe it or not, crossword puzzles open my brain to different levels of understanding. I do believe what the experts say about keeping our brains functioning full throttle. I try to be engaged wherever I am and whatever I am doing. Staying in the moment is a hard task sometimes but it is the most fulfilling too.
qi peng: Do you find yourself having to enter into the mental state of executing pieces out of discipline or inspiration or a mixture of both?
Jon Coffelt: I have to be inspired to do my work. Once I start, I tend to go into a mental state that renders me useless to anything other than the task at hand. I have been known not to eat or sleep if I am in a good flow with my work. My partner sometimes will come in and flip the light switch on because I will literally be working in the dark not opposed to continuing working in the dark even though the task would be much easier to accomplish in the light. I guess I divorce myself from my reality. My friends call this “Johnny time.”
qi peng: What are some of the practical challenges that artists have to face inside or outside their studio time?
Jon Coffelt: The most practical challenge for me at the moment is to understand that our current downturn is short-lived and that soon enough we will be over this economic hurdle. I have a show coming up and at the same time, I am carrying a whole set of paintings that I have been working out in my head for the last several weeks. I know I cannot start on them until after this exhibition but I am so afraid I will have a fall or get a knock on the head that will render this information useless. I know I should write notes about them but this is not how I work. I am much more organic. Hopefully fate will be on my side and I will be just fine and functioning and painting this new work soon.
On a more economic note: Many of the artists I have had contact with lately have been gouged by credit card companies reducing needed credit lines while increasing interest rates. Not one has been late on a payment. These banks are also on the bailout list and these are also the ones doing the gouging. This is shameful! This has got to stop. These banks are having an adverse effect on too many people’s lives.
qi peng: What are some of challenges of sewing versus those of painting?
Jon Coffelt: Basically, I could paint every day. Sewing is much more tedious as I have to hold tension in my fingers, I can safely sew for only three days in a row. I have to take a day off and then start back. One of my friends said it best, “Your work is much the same as always. Your “Miniatures” stitches are not unlike your “Cosmos” dots. The only difference is that one is dots with paint and the other are dashes of thread. It is still about mark making.
qi peng: You have worked on various abstract painting series which seemed to have been influenced by clothing design, such as stripes, patterns of the cosmos, dots, circles, and so on. How does your painting and fiber art projects relate to the art movements of op art and hard-edge abstract paintings?
Jon Coffelt: I am informed by the op art work and somewhat with hard-edge abstract painting but to me that work seems rather impersonal. I want my work to feel like it can breathe. In trying to adhere to this concept, I use erratic movement along with elements of surprise to draw the viewer closer to make their own experience with my work more personal. While understanding that fabric is the shell we use to represent us, we decide to wear something by the way we are feeling on a particular day. This is what suits us so to speak. In my painting practice, I grapple with the idea that a painting has to suit my needs for year not for just a day. Maybe this built-in ideology is what prods me to paint as an art practice. From a very young age I knew I liked fabric. My maternal grandmother quilted. She and my mom taught me to sew. I hemmed my own pants at a very early age. I made doll clothes with my grandfather. It is quite normal thing for me to understand how easily I could be informed by fabrics. Various critics have also reiterated this idea over the years.
qi peng: How do you use your magical style to move the intent of your paintings beyond that of mere decoration like some alchemist?
Jon Coffelt: I think that any time an artist hand is seen in a piece of work, the work becomes more than mere decoration. While my work could be considered decorative, my abject use of color is extreme. I tend to play with color relationships and repetition to create a different kind of flow. I feel that my work speaks to people interested in colors and their relationship to one another.
qi peng: In what ways can decoration be a profound social and cultural statement in art?
Jon Coffelt: I think this depends on what type of art we are talking about. In the past, we see Rococo in furniture and fashion with all its extraneous swirls based on Madame de Pompadour and the French Court and how it’s ostentatious excesses eventually toppled the throne. In more recent times we have seen the “Memphis” movement of the late 1980′s which was more about the disparate than about any type of cohesiveness. This was considered a foretelling sign of the abrupt changes about to take place in the world at the time. The first thing we saw after World War II and the rationing of goods and supplies was Dior‘s new silhouette, full cut dresses, coats and blouses using much more fabric with more feminine details. This defined a generation. Today graffiti is the new decorative. It seems to the glue that holds us together as a society. It defines us. Graffiti is decorative in that it is sometimes unwanted but still considered decorative because while it is not wanted nor needed, it is there because the artists wants it to be there. Cities the world over have graffiti as it is a universal form of art. It’s language goes beyond cultural boundaries.
qi peng: How does your painting style relate to your fiber artworks?
Jon Coffelt: Honestly, the part for me that is most relates is the idea of repeating something over and over like a dot or a stitch.
qi peng: Do you ever plan to release an artist’s book that will feature each item from the miniature clothing project?
Jon Coffelt: I think that it would be awesome to feature a conceptual encyclopedia of each person’s life in fiber-like style.
Thank you qi, I appreciate the positive comment. Recently, I have been asked by many people to just this. I think I would like to shop it out to see what kind of response I get from it.
qi peng: What artist’s books would you consider creating?
Jon Coffelt: I would have to give it more thought as to the form this book may take but I assure you the stories about the miniatures will be a large part of any book I would do
Soon I will be doing a series of artists books based on “One World Wallet.” This is a global, social media art initiative. Along with Haydn Shaughnessy, we explore ideas related to carrying a piece of art around with you on any given day. Here, that piece of art is a duct-tape wallet hand-made by me. Our premise is to take information from the blogging and images on the site to create a series of artist books. We are taking high-tech information and making archaic forms of the book. Technology in reverse so to speak. I am excited about this. http://oneworldwallet.ning.com/
qi peng: Are there any places which you would like to travel someday to?
qi peng: Which places would you find inspiring to see and create potential pieces that are inspired by your visiting that location?
Jon Coffelt: If I am fully awake, I can be inspired anywhere I find myself. Living in New York has given me more opportunities than most but I do feel wherever one is that is where they are supposed to be. I just want to be fully awake and understand a moment as it happens.
qi peng: You are executing some full-size motorcycles cast in semi-transparent polyurethane resin to look like huge pieces of Jolly Rancher candy each in a different flavor/color for a recent series. What is the driving idea behind this project and does it relate to the concept of travel and the irony of supposed freedom that cannot escape commercialism?
Jon Coffelt: “Operation Sweet Ride” is an autobiographical series for me. I have always had a love/hate relationship to a motorcycle. When I was very young my father would take his bike and ride with his friends. I would inevitably be left at home. I sometimes hated the sound of it starting up. My father and I were not close when I was growing up. My grandfather took his place. The idea of making this work a piece of candy came from the fact that papa always had a pocket full of Jolly Ranchers In many ways I feel this project is about making peace with my father and creating a kind of motorcycle that cant leave me behind. One in candy that reminded me of my grandfather.
qi peng: What was it like being the editor and publisher of “Alabama Art Monthly?” What was featured within that publication and how did it promote the contemporary arts scene in that region?
Jon Coffelt: During the two years I published Alabama Art Monthly, I learned so much about politics within an art community. One of the articles that we included in every issue was called “Artist 2 Artist.” I would select two distinctly different artists who sometimes did not know each other. They would go somewhere or do something together while interviewing each other and getting to know one other. This was one of my favorite parts of the magazine. Linda Hyde and Paul Barrett worked tirelessly in various editorial jobs. Dorah Rosen, Stephen Lee and Allen Heldman wrote articles about art collectors around the region and Lee Isaacs was my fearless photographer and photography editor and one of the best in the business. We had listings in each city including openings, arts events and artist talks for museums, galleries, not-for-profits and other art related venues. We also included museums in Atlanta, Chattanooga, Memphis, Nashville, Savannah, Jackson and New Orleans.
qi peng: What is the state of the arts down in the Southern states nowadays?
Jon Coffelt: So much has changed in the last few years. Serious galleries work hard to elevate the arts sometimes without the help of the city and its museums. Art is sometimes put on the back burner so to speak. One of the things I have noticed is that when everyone is helping to promote everyone else a cities art structure becomes stronger. Chattanooga has a thriving arts community because of this structure and also Nashville and New Orleans come to mind. It is disheartening when a city has a museum who rarely if ever shows their best local and regional artists. Museums feel disjointed from their art community and the community from it when one makes the other feel inferior. What is the point of having an art museum that is not really part of the art community? There is no point. That is my reasoning. In this economic downturn my plea would be that all of us come together to strengthen the arts in communities that are disjointed and that we realize that for our survival we need each other now more than ever.
qi peng: With some of your curatorial projects for organizations and locales such as Visual AIDS, College of the Mainland Fine Art Gallery, and even Wall Street with the “Zero Dollar” project with Laura Gilbert, how would you describe your curating style?
Jon Coffelt: Organic
qi peng: What types of pieces draw your eye’s attention? Is there a political thrust to your final selection of pieces that you feature?
Jon Coffelt: I am what many consider an organic curator. I have these ideas of which artists can say the most about a particular subject I am working on. I visit and/or contact many artists and tell them what I am looking for. I never tell them what I want to do with them. I leave it up to them to give me what they think will best represent them within my boundaries and subject matter. Seriously, I am never disappointed. Artists know themselves better than I ever would. Some of my best exhibitions have been me trusting the artists to give me their very best and I have come to depend of this as a way to achieve a better show than I could have conceived. When I curate I am rarely political in any way. I leave it up to the artists involved to fill in the blanks with their own political agendas. I am honored that the artists I have worked with respect me and themselves enough to give me the best they can.
qi peng: With your brilliant series of collage painting using duct tape and vellum and Tyvek that portray circuit boards, you seem to express a fascination and fear of technology in relation to our humanity. What is your statement for these circuitry paintings?
Jon Coffelt: “Circuitry” statement:
Is it complete debauchery to combine duct-tape with a substrate of vellum or Tyvek or, is it nonsensical to subvert duct-tape with vellum or Tyvek?
There are definitely two schools of thought involved here, the traditional versus the edgy progressive. Exploring the newest technologies concerning duct-tape and then subverting it by combining it alongside vellum or Tyvek, there is an inherent awkwardness of mediums, at least in terms of their respective caches. Fundamentally they meld together beautifully.
Here, I am navigating a complicated world of computer motherboards. Arrangements that are at once hard-edge and unforgiving to interpret them in a look and feel that seduces the viewer into a dialog with these arrangements in terms of what comes about once the duct-tapes structurally pliable nature melds with it’s substrate. Here the work becomes at once softer, warmer, but less predictable. Within these arrangements I implore the viewer to continue a dialog by going within the work and exploring further relationships with it. These pieces are linear based but sometimes overtly suggestive of organic structures within spacial arrangements of thickness and thinness from the very strong lines of duct-tape to very tenuous threads of it. Resting areas and open areas allow for a portal inward.
This marriage between duct-tape and vellum is total debauchery in every way. The play on materials, textures and colors furthers my premise of working with opposition in every way I can to imbue the viewer a sense of control in positive and negative space within the work. This multi-layering and sometimes grafting of colors and textures and different ideologies within one piece inflates the notion of a universe where subversives become part of the fabric of what is a known truth but instead of causing it to unravel they make the weaker parts stronger.
With duct tape being such a household item, what are you hoping to express about the idea and loss of craftsmanship by hand in today’s mechanized society (Walter Benjamin, ring the alarm…)? I am a contemporary artist in the here and now and as such I am in no way alarmed of Walter Benjamin’s ideology. In fact, one of the premises in my earlier work was that I could only make use of paints that were pre-mixed, because of my self-imposed limitation, I could not create a different color by mixing it myself. I could have only come to this conclusion in our current day and age. Technology is a great leveler for so many artists of late. What I like about duct-tape as a medium is I know its exact malleable characteristics and it’s parameter of slight color variations from one dye batch to the next. I defy anyone to tell me this is not a unique body of work. Yes we understand what circuitry looks like and we understand what duct-tape is but melding these two ideologies into a single body of work to be referenced as a new way of seeing and feeling is this is certainly one of the things that I feel makes this work unique. In the 21st century, I feel that nuance is of utmost importance and is the driving force that will continue to propel us into different ways of thinking in terms of art practice.
qi peng: David Moos, the curator of Contemporary Art at AGO Gallery of Ontario in Toronto once said of your work in a catalog that “Coffelt’s miniature clothes- each garment a portrait of a distinct individual -merges the feminine, domestic chore of sewing with the act of painting. Instead of relying upon his customary paintbrush and wooden panels, Coffelt is creating surrogate paintings with these patterned garments. This painterly emphasis, stressing the color, texture, weave and gloss of his chosen fabrics, is what separates Coffelt’s undertaking from the painstaking labors of other miniaturists…” In what ways does being a gay artist reconcile the elements of what society considers masculine or feminine tasks within the household? Also Marcel Proust, the famous French writer, had a preoccupation with the concept of memory that parallels the work that you are executing with the miniature clothing project. How does the concept of being gay intertwine with the concept of memory and the resultant emotions and events within one’s own personal history?
Jon Coffelt: I was never told that there were masculine nor feminine work. My job at home was doing the dishes a good bit of the time and when I visit that is still my job. I hemmed my own pants and made my own bed at a very young age. Did this have anything to do with me being gay? Not likely. I believe that being gay is like being born with a certain color of eyes. I had no choice in it but it was something that I had to accept just as anyone has to accept something that may be different about themselves.
I read Proust’s “Remembrance of Things Past” at 15. I felt like the brevity of the work was not appropriate for someone of my age at the time. I felt disjointed from my spirit for a time and became very depressed but during this period I actually made peace with myself and my inner being. With Proust, memories change to suit the storyteller even when the story is within. We do revisit memories to create parallel realities relating to our current time.
qi peng: How do you translate these memories into the completed pieces?
Jon Coffelt: I feel like I am only a conduit in my miniature work. I tell the story for the viewer. In this respect, I am sometimes overwhelmed at times if the person whose clothing I am miniaturizing is someone I knew or that of a dear friend. After the first couple of hours I begin to feel a peace with the work that will then transform into a sense of the precious that is sometimes hard to understand. For so many years the viewer was taught to stay a safe distance away from true emotion but all of my work regardless of what I do is raw and emotional. I hope this leads to a different understanding and to different relationships people have to seeing art.
qi peng: Do you have anything else which you would like to share with your readers and fans of your paintings, fiber arts, and various projects here?
Jon Coffelt: I am getting ready to have an exhibition in New Orleans with my “Miniature Clothing Project” in February 2010.
“Operation Sweet Ride” is well underway. In this project, we took a full-size 2000 Harley Sportster, stripped it down to it’s basic form and processed it using clays, styro-foams and paper. By making the deep recesses shallow and the outer sharp edges more rounded and softer our result was not of just a bike but a huge chunk of candy bike. I will be casting 3 in each of the original Jolly Rancher candy color. We will be using a semi-transparent Urethanes to accomplish these bikes. Each piece will weigh approximately the same as a full-size Harley.
qi peng: Thanks very much for your answering these questions. I am excited to be able to talk with you and hope to hear from you soon.
Jon Coffelt: Thank you for the opportunity, j