Midsummer Dream Opening – When the Improbable Happens

Art Works Opening

320 Hull St
Richmond, VA

Opening of Midsummer Dream
Friday, June 26, 2020
6-7 pm and 7-8 pm (each small reception is limited to 50 people.  To attend, please register at ART WORKS )

An Improbable Art Show

Usually an artist becomes aware of a forthcoming show and peruses the prospectus to see if the show suits.  In my case I want to know

  • the theme,
  • the dimensions of the art,
  • where it is located (i.e. is it a long drive or local),
  • what does it cost,
  • Will you be accepted after you have spent time and money entering? Shipping is expensive. Is it worth it?
  • Will people in your demographic see it and
  • might it lead to future opportunities.

During this time in the world of the coronavirus, galleries were forced to close and many chose to hold exhibits online. Not a great idea for many artists, but at least the online exhibit is an opportunity to display their work.

So last week I happened on a show in Richmond that was going to display real paintings and after reading the prospectus decided that the whole of their theme of where have I been, where am I, where am I going could be interpreted as We rather than I. For those that know me, you will remember I was an activist for women back in the beginning of the women’s movement. So a painting that reflected our journey held interest for me.

The show’s deadline was the day I found out about it so I needed to do something quickly. I had about 3 hours and in that time decided on a subject, painted it, photographed it, and submitted it. I used to be a newspaper illustrator and worked on similar deadlines, but never on a 30×30 inch canvas. I should have titled it “She Persisted.”

For anyone who might not understand the elements in this busy painting, on the left are 2 suffragettes based on old photos that I googled for their dresses and hats. On the right is an interpretation of women marching on 2020 or in my case 2019. In the middle is the first woman president. So there it is “When the Improbable Happens.”

When the Improbably Happens

Town Center City Club Show and Sale

If you’re ready to get out and see some art (while safely social distancing), come see beautiful art by award winning artist at the Town Center City Club Show and Sale.  Here is the scoop:

When: Friday, June 26. 2020

Time: 6:00pm – 8:30pm

Where: Town Center City Club
222 Central Park Ave #230, Virginia Beach, VA 23462
(Second Floor South of Aramada Hoffler Building)

For more info: Jan Digiovanni (757) 241-0666

Town Center City Club Show and Sale

My Courtroom Art

Defendant in courtoom art

Courtroom art is not for the faint of heart.

The court room artist sits cheek to cheek with other voyeurs on a hard wood bench trying to capture likenesses and actions of the participants in real life morality plays called trials. There are incredible consequences for the defendants as well as their family and friends who, while absorbed in the proceedings, cannot help but rubberneck your work.
It is quiet enough to hear a pin drop while the air in the room actually feels tense with human drama. (A respected national artist who used markers elicited groans from the court staff because of the squeak-squeek of the markers on paper).
Most artists have the luxury of a studio area complete with the tools of the trade close at hand, their personal choice of music, the ability to put your brush into the water bucket and get a cup of coffee or taking a break, all their reference material nearby, and best of all no deadline that is mere hours away including transportation.
The courtroom artist generally works in black and white on medium-sized sketchpads.  During a break they may run to their diy office in the closest restroom to quickly apply watercolor pigments if that is in the assignment. The pressure to create a piece of art that will not appear to be done by a 5 year old is intense.
I was a courtroom artist for several years.  I wielded my art whenever there was a particularly gory case being tried in a venue in which cameras were not allowed. Think dismemberment or other inhuman forms of human behavior. Or spy trials like the Walker family. Or big money and well known community figures. Human interest in the vein of if it bleeds it leads.
Getting a court assignment was always a challenge and many times a panicky challenge. Every time was like the first performance of an actor in front of a paying audience. Can I do a good job? Will my seat let me see the main players:  defendants, defense, prosecutor, jury? 
Judge in courtroom featured in courtroom art
The judge was easy.  The judge always faces the crowd from an elevated position.
While you are considering who could do this awful thing to somebody else, you also have to concentrate on making that nose long enough but not too long.
Lawyers and judge

Getting the painting job done.

I learned a few interesting things to help me do my job. The most important one was that everyone tends to revert back to their common positions. Lawyers especially. If the lawyer stood with both arms folded and then they turned to address the jury or acknowledge the defendant, they would inevitably return to the folded arm position. Thus as an artist I would start a very quick sketch and when they changed positions flipped my page and start the next one and then flip back when they came back to the first position. That resulted in many starts on many pieces of sketch pad paper. When I finished for the day, I would choose the sketch that I felt was the best of many.
Last year a young filmmaker visited my studio.  He seemed to think we could work together on a project and consequently my art is in the “Innocence Files” (you can find the series on Netflix).  They asked if I thought I could possibly produce courtroom art that would look as if I were in the courtroom at the time of trial. I would use photos they would provide.  Of course I always rise to a challenge and said, “Yes.”
The reference material could not have been more difficult to work with. The little girl who points out a suspect in the courtroom is from a photo of an extremely sweet little girl in her backyard. The dates of the trials were near 30 years old and the pictures of the varying actors were from varying dates. The actual court rooms were seen through doors with windows.
I have never been more inventive in trying to produce an actual scene in my life. I did the best I could and I hope the results were OK. I felt that if I could do this assignment, then frankly, I could do anything.  Okay, anything except conjure up mechanical or technological images. I just don’t do things geometric or shiny. In retrospect, drawing images from the description of witnesses or victims of crimes came pretty darn close. But they had to relive horrible events and I merely had to interpret them into someone that could be recognized. Which did happen.
Witness in Courtroom

How My Music Series Started

Now that the novelty of staying at home has worn off, I can honestly say screw cleaning and organizing! Even the idea that I will actually do any of it, including cooking from scratch, is gone. So I may as well just sit in the sun, read, and blog.

Life in the time of Corona Virus comes close to what I imagined life in a retirement village without the socializing might be like.

I wake up late, have breakfast, read the newspaper, and amazingly it is almost lunch.

I don’t have to run errands. In fact I am told not to by authorities and family – although I have joined the masked brigade at Costco.

Maybe now is a great time to tell you how I started my music series.

Letting Loose Jazz After Midnight 36x48 from my Music Series

Letting Loose Jazz After Midnight 36×48

For years I dabbled in watercolor and my subjects were from my environment. I took a class while Luke was at Duke University. There I learned the variety of colors and tones I could make from French Ultramarine Blue and Burnt Umber to Payne’s Gray. I painted boats, barns, beaches, etc. That worked for a while. As did all my drawings for the Daily Press. A subject for another time.

Then I launched into acrylics because I was too impulsive to plan my moves to achieve my painting goals. Besides oils messed with my asthma. With acrylics, I enjoyed the freedom of being able to paint and repaint and scratch out and gesso over.

It was the 1980’s and I had campaigned for women’s issues. This led me to think about doing art related to women of accomplishment.

But who to paint.

I didn’t personally know anyone outside the newspaper industry. I finally decided on JoAnn Falletta, music director for the Virginia Symphony. I knew about her and how well-liked and well-respected she was (and still is today!).

So how difficult could it be to ask her if she would be my first subject. A lot. Well it was difficult to even get in touch with her. I left messages at her office that were never answered but I persisted.

Eventually one evening I got a call from Long Beach, California and it was JoAnn on the line. I tried to impress her with my art credentials and I guess I did not appear to be a total deviant. She invited me to take photos of the Virginia Symphony Orchestra onstage at the Chrysler while they rehearsed the Buckner Fourth. No flash of course. This predated the ease of the iPhone camera so I tried to be unobtrusive with my non-digital, old school film Nikon.

Not so easy when I really wanted to be a part of the orchestra. Even behind the violins, crouching on the floor,I just wanted to do nothing but be a voyeur. But I had a self-assigned job; To capture a diminutive conductor guiding a hundred instruments played by a hundred professional musicians.

And me with a film shutter speed of 400 using only available light so I could not freeze frame. When JoAnn waved her baton the camera captured the motion, the sweep of the baton through space.

When I finally developed the film I saw photo after photo of blurs and darkness. Very little detail and little to work with or so I thought. However the loss of the crutch of detail forced me to use whatever my imagination could generate to fill in the blanks.

Motion became my signature.

Joann ConductsAction and emotion grew more important than defining my subject.

My work with VSO lasted several years. My series began and ended with Ms. Falletta. But it was my start. I carried the blurriness of motion into other subjects including other musical forms like jazz and bluegrass, and then sports, and people in the street. Even now when I find myself leaning towards harder-edged realism I look back at those early paintings and tell myself that just because one learns how to technically achieve painting realism, maybe it should not be one’s ultimate goal.

Such a Time as This

I assume like us you are at home.

I accessed a global virtual site and traveled virtually to London and Paris and the streets were filled with tourists and city sounds. Of course the tours predated 2020.

Then I checked webcams in different locations today and feel like I am living in an episode of Twilight Zone. The beaches are empty. The streets also. Times Square! Rod Sterling at his best would not have written a more bizarre scenario.

Just as I thought I could not emotionally stand any more politics, garden variety election year politics has been replaced by life and death issues-people sick and dying, joblessness, mental breakdowns, shut down businesses- all with no end in sight. Alcohol flowing quite well.

There is a personal bright side. I have my husband -and best friend- with me in our stay at home life. At least we have a gorgeous view and as of yesterday a new firepit on our deck. The great blue heron continue to fly back and forth over the marsh and our bird feeders attract an incredible variety of birds including bluebirds.

Nobody uses the “busy” excuse anymore.

My grandkids are communicating by text. I am talking more with friends from all over. I am cooking a lot (but then again I am a foodie and have always cooked) And so long as the entire world does not try to watch Netflix at the same time, I can binge watch come of my favorite shows.

On the other hand while I do have time, I have not even started my project of using more social media to showcase my art. However working on going through my photos  is just not on my real to do list. In fact I am avoiding reorganizing and deleting my 17000 photo images. Sigh.

I have done several cartoons that you can see on my Gloria Coker Fine Art Facebook. But my followers though loyal have not shared their enthusiasm. (That is a little joke) But I will persist.

Eventually this will end. Then we can figure out what permanent changes we will face. We won’t go back to business as usual. I hope many changes will be for the better, but we shall see.

In case you missed them, click on the cartoons below to see each one full sized.  Enjoy!!

Enjoy the Show

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, I had prepared and hung a lovely show of my paintings at the James River Country Club.  Sadly we were social distancing before many folks were able to enjoy the show.  So I thought I’d share my own commentary with each painting for everyone to enjoy from the comfort of your own home.  All of these paintings are currently available for purchase.  If you are interested, please contact me and we can make safe and socially distant arrangements.

Blues Guitar and Horn 23.5x29.5

Blues Guitar and Horn

I have been painting jazz musicians for many years.  My first renditions were more delineated.  As I got more comfortable with the subject matter and how musicians held and played their instruments, I have gotten more willing to create more abstractly. I wanted the emotion, color, and essence to attract the viewer rather than the specifics.

End of Autumn 24x36

End of Autumn

I am from New England and though this painting has a particular reference to Maine, it could be anywhere in the north. It is called The End of Autumn, because I see and feel the chill, and some iciness, along the shore. There is considerable texture in the painting because underneath, it is another painting and maybe even a third!

Bass Player 30x24

Bass Player

Another paint-over. When I find myself getting a bit too “tight” meaning the images are too delineated for my taste, I live with them for a while and then I paint over them. I added a musical score collage and random brushstrokes.

Break From Fishing 24x24

Break from Fishing

I has a solo show in Manteo. NC in 2019, and I wanted to have a painting that reflected the waterfront. But I found myself “over” boats and marine scenes.  Instead I used my made-up young musicians along with a few added items from a photograph my friend Cyndi took for me.

Dalmatians 11x14


I have never owned a Dalmatian, but I know a cute pose when I see it. These two had such a bond I could not resist painting them.

Dance in the Garden 48x36

Dance in the Garden

This is one of my larger paintings in a series of dancers that endured for many years. Luke and I took ballroom lessons for 3 years.  It was a great time to not just experience the dance, but to see others actually perform. As always, the background becomes whatever I want it to be.

Dancing At the Festival 24x30

Dancing at the Festival

I have painted women for decades and my ladies all seem to move and wear colorful garments. This painting, like many others, includes imagined or made up figures.  They’re based on my feelings at the time of the environment and the relationship of the women. The hula hoop looking circles of color are added to create more visual action.

Man With A Horn 20x16

Man with a Horn

I am still playing with this piece. Particularly the hat area. But not right now. The horn player is based loosely on musicians I saw and photographed in New Orleans.

At Least I have My Phone 30x24

I Still Have My Phone

My thanks to the young woman in Hampton who let me photograph her sitting in a shop window.  I loved her clothing, pose, and the fact that it genuinely reflected the young people in my family with their “devices”

Jittery Jazz 24x16

Jittery Jazz

This painting has at least two paintings beneath it. When things don’t work sometimes one must just destroy the painting to make it better; either by just painting a new version on top of the old or gessoing the whole thing and starting from scratch. I usually chose the former. He has a 50’s flair that reminds me of “the Fonz.”

Letting Loose Jazz After Midnight 36x48

Letting Loose the Jazz After Midnight

A large painting that I literally attacked. Keep throwing paint on until I finally evolved some forms that resembled musicians. There are many other ways I could have handled the design and colors but I will save them for another day.

Qualifying Time 22x28

Qualifying Time

My family has always cycled. Luke and I did a lot of tandem biking as well as bike tours that go inn to inn in New England and Barbados. These riders are racing.   I used my brushstrokes and sometimes brush stem to add choice of color so that you, the viewer, would feel the motion.

Sax, Horn , Guitar 30x30

Sax, Horn, Guitar

Another expression of my feelings watching musicians in the clubs on Bourbon Street. I did a quick sketch while we were inside one of the clubs.  Al Hirt actually signed my sketch!

Seaside Park 24x24

Seaside Park

I grew up near Long Island Sound in Connecticut and after school we would all troop down to the beach and the seawall. There really wasn’t much beach so this is improvised as well as my placement of a Tidewater oyster boat.

Sketch Artist 30x24

Sketch Artist

It is quite uncomfortable for me to draw in this sitting position, but others are not as stiff! Doing preliminary sketches is the best way to formulate an idea. I have spent too many hours trying to fix the unfixable because it was just a bad design.

Musings about Oceanview Amusement Park

A while back I was working on a commission for someone who asked me to paint her parents circa 1941 at Oceanview Amusement Park in Virginia Beach. I did enjoy getting all my research together and doing preliminary sketches. I enjoyed the stories through photos of the sailors who were deployed from Norfolk during World War II. They spent free time at Oceanview Amusement Park. The colors and movement of amusement parks and fairs have always interested me as an artist. When I worked as an illustrator at the Daily Press, I had the sad opportunity to watch the tear down of the iconic wooden roller coaster. I believe it took three times for the explosives to finally work. It was an end to another chapter in local history.
For my personal work, I am still searching for a realistic, but looser style. I know folks think that I already paint in a loose fashion. But I want to do it in a more confident manner. I want the brushstrokes, colors ,and shapes to carry the painting rather than the reality it is based on. If that sounds confusing, it is because maybe I am. I think of Jackson Pollock and how he would throw house paint on his canvases flat on the ground.  I try to think of how much excitement there was in that approach, but then I think about how much my back would hurt if I painted that way.
Having said that I would like to paint larger canvases despite the fact that I have nowhere to put them and most people are downsizing. Corporate world do you hear me? Tired of your prints that look like wallpaper samples? (Is that too mean?) Let’s talk. Meanwhile I continue my search for a new fresh series. Maybe I need to take my camera and do some exploring. But I think I will wait till it warms up.
Oceanview Amusement Park

Walk on the Wildside Show at Suffolk Art Center

Sorry for the short notice, but I wanted to get this out to everyone!  Excited to be sharing some of my more WILD artwork at the Walk on the Wildside Show in Suffolk this spring.  Would love to see you and chat at the Opening Reception on Thursday, March 5, 2020. 

Horse for Wildside Show Suffolk


Ramblings: My Miserable Painting Day

Artists know that we can really mess up big-time. Sometimes we just have a miserable painting day.

And it happens much more frequently than we’d like to admit.

The other day I decided to attack a painting that I had done several years ago.  While the painting was pleasant to look at and interesting to a lot of people, it lacked what I would like to see  my work represent.  In other words, it lack the wow factor. 

I looked at the painting for a long time,  I realized I hated the design.  I kind of liked the colors.  I found the figure was fairly well done, but it was overall just pedestrian.

In retrospect, I should’ve taken photos of the painting throughout the whole course of the day to document all the stupid decisions that I made.

To start, I thought the figure was rather lonely so I enlarged the figure.  When she still didn’t have a life, I gave her a partner. That didn’t work, so I added another figure.  But three figures weren’t any better than one smaller one. So I kept on doing what I tell people not to do –  rework some things without really thinking about the design, the shapes, and the color.

There was no sense of movement left.  I should have just left it or gessoed over it so I wouldn’t have to look at it anymore.

But now I still had paint on my palate, my water wasn’t terribly dirty, and I wasn’t at a point of true exhaustion. So now I sit staring at a painting that is a whole lot worse than the original.  I am kicking myself.  I know I will paint over it and be frustrated again. I never learn.

Having said all that, I do understand that failure is part of the learning process. Some attempts are never meant to succeed. I still wish I had the presence of mind to photograph the whole process. Time sometimes lets those closed doors open again. New insights?

Old work sometimes includes little gems one can build on. But if it is all painted over it is gone. 

jittery jazz revised - not used for my miserable painting day

Ramblings: Brilliant Creativity

Out in the March done with brilliant creativityI think there is a general misconception by the public that people like me, who tend to get involved in what we loosely called creative pursuits, simply plod along.  We engage in brilliant creativity.  We progress from one brilliant idea with a beginning, middle, and end,.  There is a pause and then we go to the next brilliant idea.

Well obviously every idea isn’t brilliant, but when we are in our inspiration phase, sometimes we feel that it may be creating the best work we’ve ever done. However, the pauses can be a lot more lengthy.  During this intermission, we feel not just uninspired, but scared to death that there will be no more brilliant ideas! The best we can hope for is to regurgitate the things that we’ve done before, the tried-and-true and perhaps the successful (monetarily speaking.)

I say we and I probably should not. Because this is just the way I feel.

So this was a lengthy lead into the feelings I am having right now.

I can always go back to painting the themes that people seem to recognize from me. But that is playing it safe. And you don’t learn and you don’t excel by playing it safe.

But then a painter, like myself, sits back and says,

  • All right so how do I not play it safe? 
  • What do I do differently?
  • Do I change my theme?
  • My subject matter?
  • Do I change my technique?
  • Do I get more rigid or more exuberant?
  • Do I paint larger or smaller?
  • Do I tell a story or paint a feeling?
  • Do I paint more abstractly or with more representation?
  • Is the best really yet to come?

I don’t know those answers right now, but I have to believe that the best is yet to come.

Fear not! I will continue to paint, because I can’t not paint.

And you will be the first to know if I succeed in becoming inspired again. And it may be in the realm of technique and approach.

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