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Down The Rabbit Hole | The Art and Fun of Nan Coffey

Post by the Artist

For the last 8 months or so, I have been making increasingly large paintings. There is really no other way to put it. In December 2013, I set out to create the largest single painting I had ever conceived. At the time, and at 66 square feet (72 in x 132 in), it seemed so huge. I wanted to create something very uplifting, very positive, and that would speak to my desires to stand up for myself and be successful in a fine art world that seems to embrace the immediacy of digital work over the type of work that I do – fine art paintings done solely by me without the help of a team of hired assistants. Here’s the thing - the commercial works I create are extremely time consuming – from the conception of the idea, to the hand drawn sketch to the finished drawing to the completed painting that is achieved only by painting repeated layers of paint one on top of the other over and over in order to achieve the bright, clean appearance. These are great fun and people seem to dig them. However, often times as I work on them, I feel the desire to break out from the repetitive nature of the process and make something much bigger, much louder, much more immediate. When I decided to work much larger, my desire was two-fold: to create not only an uplifting piece of art, but I wanted to have the freedom to express myself in a less constricted, more free-form manner. I wanted to show people visually what goes on in my head as I work day in and day out. As I sit and paint these many layers of paint on my more “normal” sized works, my mind is often a maze of other ideas and thoughts, other dreams, other desires, other expressions that I simply cannot achieve when I work on the smaller, commercial works. So I chose to not pre-draw this first large work – I essentially just went for it. And here was the result:

The Turning Point by Nan Coffey 

This is acrylic paint on primed canvas and was painted entirely on the floor of my condo at the time.  I titled it The Turning Point because it is symbolic of the moment I realized that I could be much more than just someone who paints perfect little pictures in a studio – that I could work larger and more expressive and that if I am true to myself and if I stand up for myself, I can achieve anything.  I had my husband Josh photograph me sitting on top of this work simply because I thought it would make for a pretty cool picture:

The Turning Point By Nan Coffey

Although I did not create this first large-scale work for any reason other than to see if I could in fact do it, it ended up in the storefront window of Tender Greens in Downtown San Diego. Here is what it looked like:

Tender Greens Window Turning Point Nan Coffey
It is difficult to put into words the feeling I had upon completion of that piece – it was gratifying beyond words. I did not expect, however, that it would foster within me a desire to work even bigger. As I stood and looked at the work hanging in the window for the first time I thought – this is cool, but it’s not big enough, it doesn’t really show what I can do. So, I went even bigger. A lot bigger. At over 170 square feet (120 in x 208 in), the next painting was truly a feat to accomplish. The entire piece was painted in black acrylic, flat on the floor, just like the first one. However, this time, as I sat on the canvas, all stretched out around me, I was overcome with a feeling of complete joy – it sounds silly, but the truth is, I felt like I was, for the first time, able to really and truly be IN my painting – that I was actually a part of it. I worked area by area, a section here, then over there, then at one end, then at the other. I walked all over it as I worked and really felt connected to what I was doing. As I worked on it, it became very clear to me that I was creating a work that for the first time would truly be a reflection of who I am and what I am all about – which is why the piece is titled Who Are You? The Alice symbolism is there, intertwined with memories of friends and family and music I love and things I love. This piece was and is extremely important to me as it is a true expression of who I am now as a person and as an artist – it is, in a sense, a story of why I am the way I am and why I think the way I think. We are all a product of our past – the things we have done, the things we have not done, the people we have met, the decisions we have made along the way – it all makes us who we are and this painting is symbolic of all of those things as well as a reminder to stay true to who you really are as a person.  As I worked away at this painting, I began to visualize shows and exhibits and the way that I would do things if given the opportunity. And that is, that I could use both methods of painting – the smaller, full color, more layered pieces as well as the larger more free-form, black and white pieces – to really show who I am and what I can do. This was the end result:

Who Are You? By Artist Nan Coffey

As I worked I also envisioned how I wanted the piece to be photographed – I knew that I would not be able to display this massive canvas as of yet, but I still wanted to show it to people. It’s difficult to show scale on the internet and I wanted people to really understand just how big this piece was and just how important the work is to me. This was not something that Josh or I could accomplish, so I looked to our local community to find someone who would understand the vision and frankly, who would help me accomplish what was in my head. The resultant photograph was exactly what I envisioned it to be – and I could not have done it without the help of John Schulz with Studio Schulz in San Diego. This is that photo, shot in his super rad studio, shot from a bird’s eye view: 


Of course, as soon as I was finished with this painting, I wanted to move on to the next one. I had more black and white works in my head, but I really felt this inner desire to see if I could pull off a painting of this scale in full color. So, again, I decided to just go for it. At 178 square feet (120 in x 212 in), this full color work dwarfs the size of my last full color painting by so many feet its ridiculous. The title of this one is (When She’s) Ten Feet Tall and it is symbolic of my journey as an artist – a desire to stand out and stand up and show people that I am capable of even bigger things. Here are some in progress pics of this full color piece being worked on:

When She's Tenn Feet Tall Progress Nan Coffey

When She's Ten Feet Tall Progress by Nan Coffey

When She's Ten Feet Tall Progress Pics Nan Coffey 
To photograph this one was quite a feat. I wanted this one to be shot upright and given the massive size, it was not going to be easy. We again went to our friends at Studio Schulz and like magic, they just made it happen. Here are some of the resultant photos from that awesome day in the studio, all shot by the amazing John Schulz:

The Poet that shows it Nan Coffey

The Poet That Shows It Nan Coffey

When She's Ten Feet Tall by Nan Coffey
The day after that piece was shot, I immediately began working on the next one. My desire to work even bigger will be even more evident in the coming weeks.  Here is a peek at the next one in progress – this time, the work will span over 350 square feet – yep, twice the size of the last ones:

Bite Me Photo By Nan Coffey

Stay tuned! Visit my Online Store to support my vision.


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