By Sarah Mansheim
Revelers looking for Emily Coleman at Harmony Ridge Gallery during November’s First Friday are in for a surprise – she won’t be there. Folks are used to seeing Coleman behind the wine bar or the sales counter at the popular American craft gallery, but this month, she’ll be down the street opening her own art show, “Hey Baby, What’s Your Sign?”
Coleman will present 12 new paintings at Washington Street Gallery, and Friday night, Nov. 7, the fine art gallery will host Coleman at an artist’s reception from 5-9 p.m. Viewers will be treated to a collection of fashion-forward, multi-dimensional works portraying women of the zodiac.
This is the largest collection of new work Coleman has ever presented, and as the show approaches, she is still putting the finishing touches on the paintings.
“This is the first time I planned everything before I started,” says Coleman. Once she realized the theme of the collection, suggested by her 13-year-old daughter, she began scouring books and internet sites for information about each astrological sign including its specific colors, gemstone and ruling planet.
Next, she began collecting the materials – see, these aren’t just paintings. Each piece depicts a woman and her ruling planet; from a distance, the work, presented on 2 feet by 4 feet birch board, looks simply like paint on wood. But on closer inspection, the ladies’ dresses, headpieces and jewelry are fashioned of silk and tree bark, feathers, paper, leather, gemstones and more.
For instance, Cancer has 17 different materials making up her portrait, including paint, folded tissue paper, silk, pearls, mirror, silver leaf, lead crystal, silver-leafed tumbled quartz, back-painted glass, Mylar, shell and mica chips. One portrait features a dress of ferns, another of birch bark. Others feature lacquered butterfly wings and peacock and parrot feathers. Coleman is adamant that all of the feathers and wings have been consciously collected. “No animals have been harmed in the making of this show,” says Coleman.
The work in “Hey Baby, What’s Your Sign” is heavily influenced by the television shows “Project Runway” and “Face Off,” Coleman says, and the portraits at once depict illustrative realism and high-fashion fantasy. Coleman says every season, her favorite episode of “Project Runway” shows the contestants creating an outfit using non-traditional materials. She’s taken that fascination and added it to her paintings, challenging the traditional notion of what a “painting” is.
Another influence is the late couture fashion designer Alexander McQueen, particularly for the headpieces the figures wear in the paintings. “His models looked like showgirls. Also, he liked to embellish. So do I.” Coleman adds that all of the ruling planets depicted in the paintings are based on images taken by the Hubble telescope.
And is she happy with the outcome?
“I love it. This is the most work I’ve done at once, and I’m proud. I don’t get proud over my art very much, because it’s a dangerous slope. But, I’m really proud of this show.”
Now, as she furiously paints, cuts and drills in her living room, the goddesses of the zodiac surrounding her, she jokes that she’s having another “Project Runway” inspiration. Like the television host Tim Gunn always says, she has to “make it work.”
Coleman’s show will open at Washington Street Gallery during Lewisburg’s First Friday from 5-9 p.m. The show will continue through Dec. 27.