New York State painter James Coe collects paintings that demonstrate good ways of tackling vexing painting problems — like presenting a variety of greens in a landscape.
Coe has interesting tales about the acquisition of the three paintings featured here, but they do all have something in common — they inspire him in regard to difficult issues in painting. Two prominently tackle “a large array of greens,” and the third crops an element in an arresting way. “I’m drawn to a piece when I see an artist do something that I struggle with or can’t do well,” says Coe. “It doesn’t necessarily serve as a lesson. Instead, I see it and I have the confidence to know that I can do it, too.”
The first piece is by Rosemarie Beck, who is something of a legend in the New York area. “I see this one every day when I come down to have my breakfast,” says Coe. “That painting is the painting that started everything. I remember the day my parents brought it home and hung it over the mantel. I was about 8. They were redecorating, and an old friend who was an interior decorator told them they should have a painting over the mantel.
“When I was getting interested in painting, the first thing I really noticed about the piece was how the paint was applied. I didn’t even know who Beck was, but she was part of the same circle of friends who taught me at Parsons School of Design. Her husband taught me in one of his literature classes, but I never met her in person. What I always loved about it is how she simplified the shapes and abstracted, particularly the person in the background.
“It took years for me to learn how to read the picture. I love the way Beck cuts the figure off at the chin so it becomes an abstract shape in the background. It’s such a good lesson that I am never able to remember here in the studio. Also, in terms of paint application, I adapted her vertical and horizontal hatches of color for a while when I was young, so I directly stole from her!”
Bernard Corey inspires Coe with his handling of greens. “I bought this painting online about five years ago,” says Coe. “I had discovered Corey earlier than that, but once I turned myself into a collector, I stumbled on something on eBay that was a great deal. He had just passed away, and there was a lot of his stuff out there. For years, because he had no children, other relatives were fighting over his estate and letting pieces out slowly over time, then their lawyer said to sell them all, and so they put them on auction.
“His pieces went from selling for a couple thousand to a couple of hundred. So I bought five of them in one day! I had to move quickly because it was an online auction. At the end of the day I didn’t even know which ones I had picked. Corey was so prolific; he would go out every day and then finish the pieces at home. He wouldn’t sign them until he was ready to sell. In this painting, there’s a wonderful array of greens that are so hard to manage. I’m seeing all these reds that he worked into the greens. I am fighting the greens on a piece I am working on right now, so seeing all the browns, reds, and shadow colors he used is inspiring. He went back and forth, putting warms in with the greens, then putting greens on top.”
The last piece, a painting by Vladimir Mikhailovich Chernikov, piggybacked its way across the globe when Coe was buying a painting done by a Soviet artist who made propaganda posters — a gift for his Russian-history-loving son. “I wanted to get that piece for him, and while I was searching, I stumbled upon this piece,” recalls Coe. “It’s that odd juxtaposition of subjects that you would only do it if you saw it — I can’t imagine making it up in your head because it is so bizarre. It’s so beautifully painted.
“I love the idea of the female figure with this hard industrial environment around her. And she is in shadow while the rest is in harsh light. There is a little spot of orange lit in the shed behind her. It’s the most orange part of the painting, and it’s right next to the only blue in the painting. It’s so well constructed and thought through. When I bought it, it took months for it to get here from Russia.”