Maureen Coles wants to evoke a reaction from people who view her art. While she may be happy with the creation of a piece, she fully knows her audience may respond differently.
And with the pieces she hopes to bring to Art Vancouver’s international art fair in September 2020, she’s ready to learn from any that visit her booth and show interest.
“[Art] has to draw you in and cause some interest and you need to feel something about it,” Coles says. “And I hope, you know, whether they feel happy, even if somebody feels very, very sad about a painting, they’ve got a reaction to it.”
The need to constantly learn is important, and this philosophy has influenced much of her career. In addition to her own art, she has taught for 16 years.
“Being able to ask somebody a question, like myself as the artist, ask someone who's interested, ‘What is it you see? What's interesting to you?’ and getting their feedback?” she says. “It’s important because I may have missed the mark.”
‘I’m drawn to things that are a little bit different looking’
Coles’s artwork is very representational, concentrating on landscapes, seascapes and still-life. But in the past few years, she has become interested in doing these more traditional pieces as grisaille, a style that she compares to black-and-white photography.
“The masters would do a grisaille as an underpainting—Rembrandt, Rubens, those guys—would have done an underpainting, the first layer of their painting as a grisaille to identify their values.”
Instead of placing colour on top as other artists may do, the grisaille acts as the finished work for Coles.
But Coles is also interested in experimenting. And it was a walk through downtown Vancouver that led to her most recent inspiration.
“Because I’m visually impaired, I’m drawn to things that are a little bit different looking,” Coles says. “And I was downtown Vancouver, and I was looking up, seeing reflections of buildings in other buildings, and all these interesting weird shapes. So, I was photographing those, and I call them colour shifts—so, taking elements of that, but painting them in funky, weird colours.”
She says they are reminiscent of the bold lines and stark contrast found in graphic novels.
Her visual impairment—Coles is legally blind in both eyes—is something she’s lived with her entire life.
“I see things clearly, but I sort of explain it like I’m looking at the other end of binoculars,” she says. “Things are just smaller and further away.”
‘They were actually interested in our artistic integrity’
Art Vancouver’s 2020 exhibition has been postponed until September due to a ban on large gatherings as a result of COVID-19. When it takes place, it will mark Coles’s second time participating in it.
She says the unique format of the event, placing artists right with their artwork, really making it an exciting environment.
“The opening night was really cool. I was really, really impressed with the volume of people that were there and the interest that people had in talking with us as artists and wanting to understand our process, rather than, “Oh, that’s pretty. That makes me happy. That’ll go nicely on my wall.’ They were actually interested in our artistic integrity and why we were doing something and what led us doing that path. That was very exciting and motivating.”
She says having people come up to her and wanting to talk about her art is something she also tries to impart to her students. She wants people to take time to look, take it in and contemplate.
“That’s exactly what I want people to be able to do is to slow down, analyze, look at things, and not take it at face value, to really observe.”
INTERVIEW BY NATHAN DUREC