A conversation between Scott Coffey and Krista Schoening on the topic of Coffey’s current show, Alone.
KS: How do you decide on your color palette for these works? How does, for example, the choice to paint a sink full of dishes in fluorescent hues impact the way we perceive the image?
SC: The simple answer is that I just love color and that it makes me happy. The more color, the better. I tend to work very intuitively– I choose my color palettes as I begin a painting based on what feels correct, and only in hindsight do I see the significance I give certain colors. For instance, dark purple emerged as depression, and bright neons came to represent anxiety and intensity. I’m fascinated by the way color can bear the emotional weight of an image, which is something I explored in A Mania in Four Acts. The same image of the kitchen sink changes entirely with the changing color scheme, mirroring the poetry. It starts off pleasant and rises in intensity to the third act, which is so bright it’s almost painful to look at, and then lowers down for the fourth, which is much calmer but still maintains a hint of the previous energy.
KS: Some of these works have a very smooth surface quality — a polished feeling that nearly removes evidence of your hand from the work. What made you decide to paint these images rather than, for example, creating them digitally? What is the importance of process (and of paint) to you as an artist?
SC: I was a graphic designer before I was a painter, and so I have a lot more training in digital art than in working with paint. Working mostly in vector illustration, I had developed a style using layered blocks of color, and I got used to being able to make an image that was perfect down to the most minute detail. When I began painting, I brought both of those with me. I love working with paint, making something with my hands, and how special the creation of a singular object is, but I did really miss how perfect I could make a digital piece. Hence the layers of varnish and smoothing of the surface. However, that’s been something I have moved away from in my recent work, notably Lethe, the most recently produced piece in this show. Absolute perfection doesn’t feel as necessary as it used to.
KS: Text plays a big role in this body of work, but only one of the works actually includes text as part of the image. What is the relationship between text and image in these works? Can the text or the image stand alone? Does one aspect of the work dominate the other?
SC: I have always loved comics and posters and art where words and images are combined. Text and visuals can both communicate ideas in different ways and with different strengths, so why not combine the two? Before I started painting I made illustrated zines of my poetry, which I-405 Northbound was originally written for. And once I fell in love with painting, it didn’t make sense to leave words behind, even though they didn’t fit the customs of the medium.
The way the text and images interact really varies between the works. In some pieces, such as #relatable, the image is dominant. I think a viewer could look at that piece without the text and fully grasp it. And in A Mania in Four Acts, the image supports the much more powerful text. And with I-405 Northbound, the two are inextricable. I had created more pieces like that one where I wrote directly onto the panel, however none of the others made it through the curatorial process. It’s definitely something I want to continue to explore more in my future work.
KS: The everyday is an important part of your subject matter, but you transform it in certain ways. Can you tell me a bit about that transformation?
SC: Loneliness tends to be a very mundane emotion. It doesn’t lie in big, memorable moments, but in the unexciting times in between. My memories tend to be very visual, so when I think about times of loneliness, I see my apartment, or the view out my window, or the view off my roof where I would sit and stare into the night when I was feeling sad. Directly translating these visual memories felt like the most accurate way of representing what loneliness is to me. Keeping the representation very mundane and tethered to reality allowed me to just go wild with the color, using it emotively and making work that felt both realistic and expressionistic.
KS: This body of work is very timely, given widespread social isolation brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. These works, though they deal with the subject of loneliness, also engage with beauty. Your accompanying text, though it discusses boredom, also reveals flashes of inspiration. Finally, as you mention in your artist’s statement, you have transformed a feeling of isolation into a show that connects you to a larger community. Is there some alchemy here?
SC: I think any alchemy in this show comes from my journey through therapy and self-understanding. It’s taken me a long time to be able to comprehend myself and what I’m feeling and why, and to be able to express those feelings in a way I feel proud of. More than anything, my favorite parts of this show so far have been when people viewing it have responded with “I get it. I’ve been there too.” We all feel bored and lonely and isolated, but that stuff can be really scary to talk about. But the more we do, the easier it gets. That fear of being judged for our inner darkness is almost always wrong. People tend to respond to honesty with compassion. This show was just my way of making something both honest and beautiful.