First published: Fall 2016
Rebecca Lieb: You just spent eight years doing these two portraits, one of you and the companion piece of Whitney [Ward, Coleman’s wife]. Was it a conscious decision to dedicate eight years to this project?
Joe Coleman: It was a conscious decision to commit when I started my big self-portrait [Doorway to Joe, 2015]. The self-portrait took over three years. Then I did these series of miniatures which, in my mind, were like satellites around the bigger self-portrait. Things I wanted to say that somehow didn’t make it onto the planet. So it has these orbiting miniatures. And when I’d finished the miniatures, I knew that I wanted to do another large painting, and the only painting that my gut and heart told me was this companion for the big self-portrait. Then, I knew it would have to be of Whitney [Doorway to Whitney, 2015].
RL: A literal companion, and the first time they’d ever met was at the “Unrealism” exhibition at the Gargosian Gallery [Miami, December 2–6, 2015; see Raw Vision #88, page 69].
JC: Yeah, that’s the fun part, and it was exciting for me to see them together.
And a Child Shall Lead Them, 2001, acrylic on panel, schoolgirl’s uniform, 28 x 34 ins. / 64 x78 cm.
RL: But just going back to eight years, that’s the longest you’ve ever spent on one project. So was that a decision? Was that just something that came out of the circumstance?
JC: Well it was a decision that’s made in the same way that I produce the work, which is slowly. So I wanted to challenge myself in every way: physically, by making the piece both bigger in size, but also more minute at the same time. I wanted to challenge myself in the commitment: previously, I’d spent a year producing one painting, and I don’t work on other paintings at the same time. I can’t. I also wanted to challenge myself, choosing subjects that are even more personal so it’s more emotionally challenging, and spiritually and physically because I don’t know if my hand and my eye are still going to have those same abilities. I have them now, but that could change tomorrow. And I was thinking it’s likely that your abilities become less and less, and you become physically challenged when you get to the other side of the ladder – I’m at the precipice, so I wanted to push myself and challenge myself in all these ways.