The artistic journey of painter and sculptor Michael Coleman
April 11, 2014
Michael Coleman’s interest in visual arts was magnified by hunting.
As a child, he Provo-based painter and sculptor — who has exhibited at the National Academy of Western Art and at Kennedy Galleries in New York and has works on display at Hoffman Exotics and Fine Art at the Redstone Center at Kimball Junction — was out with his BB gun and shot a bird.
"I remembered that I would shoot at these things, but never hit anything," Coleman said during an interview at his home studio in Provo. "One day, I hit one and that surprised me."
The boy ran over to pick up his target and was taken aback by the detail in the feathers, the beak and the claws.
"You know, when you see birds in flight, they’re all just blurs, but to see one up close, man, that, to me, was magic," Coleman said. "Up to that point, I had done a lot of drawings, but this was something more."
The budding artist took the bird home and did some sketches and began creating what would become a trademark of his — wildlife art.
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Coleman’s teachers picked up on his talent immediately.
"It was to the point where they would call my parents to tell them I was pretty good at art," Coleman said. "I was sort of the teachers’ pet, because they’d let me do what I want to do. If the class was getting ready to start studying and I was working on something, they would say, "Oh, let Mike finish what he’s doing.’"
Coleman’s passion for art led him to Brigham Young University in a roundabout way.
"I didn’t intend to go to college," he confessed. "But BYU had just opened up the Harris Fine Arts Center and they had an exhibition of paintings.
"In my youthful exuberance, I was so excited to see them and I assumed they were done by the faculty," Coleman said. "So I signed up."
Unfortunately, Coleman registered under false pretenses.
"I was disappointed when I found out the paintings I saw were all older paintings that were from the Hudson River School and not by the faculty," he said. "In fact, I didn’t learn very much from the faculty. They were really into abstract stuff and they drove me crazy."
So, to appease his emotions, Coleman would explore the Fine Arts Center’s storage for those older, classical works.
"I would go into the basement and take some of the paintings out on the lawn and just look at them in good light," he said. "In fact, the things I learned at college were mostly from studying those paintings."
Needless to say, Coleman wasn’t a popular student among the faculty.
"I got into a lot of arguments with them," he said with a snicker. "I also turned their assignments around on them."
Once, Alex Darais, who was one of the most-respected members of the art faculty, gave out an assignment that Coleman didn’t like.
"He wanted us to stretch a five-foot by five-foot canvas and throw black paint on it," Coleman said. "I knew what he wanted. He wanted us to organize spaces."
But Coleman had another idea.
"I took a faded, hooded red sweatshirt and wadded it up," he said. "I looked at it from all these different angles and took a black ballpoint pen and red construction paper and drew it."
The artist also threw some Chinese white highlights onto the work.
"I took it to class and after he critiqued everyone’s black canvases, the professor asked if he could keep my work," Coleman said. "He told me how much he admired it, and we became friends for about an hour."
Still, the years Coleman spent at BYU weren’t in vain.
"I met my wife Jackie there and have been painting what I want ever since," he said with a smile.
Throughout his career, Coleman has continued to struggle with his only challenges — ideas, time and energy.
"I have more ideas than I have time and energy to paint," he said. "Sometimes a painting will lead into another. I will be working on one thing and it will remind me of something else and I will start a new project. I have two or three paintings going on at a time."
His preferred mediums are oils, gouache and, more recently, watercolors.
"I have done a lot of gouaches, but they quit making the board that I used and I can’t find a decent substitute," Coleman said. "It’s really frustrating for my technique to lay down something on this weird paper they are making these days."
Until he finds a suitable replacement, the artist is working with watercolors.
"That’s been really fun because they’re tricky and you have to pay attention to what you’re doing," he said.
In addition to the two-dimensional work, Coleman creates bronze sculptures.
"I have always admired bronzes and that came from the fact that I like to make things that I don’t have," he explained. "When I was little, my mom and dad bought a World Book Encyclopedia set. That was magical to me. I would see things that were just amazing within the pages."
Of course, the Coleman family couldn’t afford the paintings and sculptures that he saw in the encyclopedia volumes, so he started recreating them at home.
"Doing that has helped my paintings and the paintings complement the bronzes, because you get an understanding of large forms and details," he said.
In 1999, Coleman won the Prix de West Award at the National Cowboy Hall of Fame for his bronze of a moose titled "September," which is now in the permanent collection of the Hall of Fame.
Much of the artist’s inspirations for his art come from hunting trips.
"I’ve been to Africa nine times and have visited places all over the world," Coleman said. "That stuff just sticks with me and makes a deep impression on me.
"I have snaked barefoot through the Okavango Swamp and had hippos on one side and crocodiles on the other and elephants in front of me," he said. "Talk about some close encounters."
His other influences include sculptors Rembrandt Bugatti, Jules Moignez and Frederic Remington, and French military painters Thomas Moran, Edouard Detaille and Alphonse de Neuville.
He also admires wildlife artists such as Wilhelm Kuhnert and Carl Rungius.
The artist currently shows in galleries in Jackson, Wyo., Santa Fe, N.M. and Scottsdale, Ariz., and has worked with Don Hoffman, owner of Hoffman Exotics and Fine Art, for years.
"I am lucky to be able to paint what I want to paint," Coleman said. "I don’t sit around waiting for commissions. I just keep working and things just seem to work out."
The paintings and sculptures of Michael Coleman can be seen at Hoffman Fine Art and Exotics, 1678 W. Redstone Center Dr., Suite 110-115. For more information, visit http://www.hoffmansfineart.com . For more information about Michael Coleman, visit http://www.michaelcolemanart.com.
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