Spring in the City: Urban Landscapes by Mishael Coggeshall-Burr

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March 1st - 31st

In these urban landscapes from New York City, Paris, and San Juan, Puerto Rico, Montague artist Mishael Coggeshall-Burr integrates the art of photography and oil painting to create novel and compelling images on canvas. Taking blurred shots with a 35mm camera, the artist searches for peripheral scenes with cinematic color and tone. He translates selected images into abstract-realist paintings with convincing color, formal structure, and subtle references to art history. Through his actions Mishael questions both the truth of photography and the fiction of painting: we enter a liquid, cinematic space, capturing the magic moment when Alice seems to step through the looking glass. The photorealistic image melts away, the prosaic merges with poetry.

An opening reception will be held on Thursday, March 1st, during Amherst Arts Night Plus, from 5pm to 8pm.

About Mishael Coggeshall-Burr:
Mishael studied painting at Middlebury College, The Glasgow School of Art, and the Art Student's League in New York. His artistic adventures have led him to many countries and continents, including China, Tibet, and Nepal, where he garnered images for a show in Kazakhstan; London, UK, where he made his own art and installed a variety of artwork at the Tate Galleries for several years; Mozambique, where he met his amazing yogini wife Nadya; Germany, France, Hong Kong, and Macao, as well as Central America and the Caribbean, with many images from his travels featured in his art exhibitions. He lives, works, and paints in Montague with his wife and four children. 

Images above: details from "Blossoms and Lights, NYC" and "High Line, NYC", both oil on canvas.

Q&A with Mishael

How old were you when you created your first artwork?
I could always draw. When I was a kid I was asked by friends to draw things, and I think in grade school I won my class an ice cream party and after that I was “The Artist”. I didn’t start painting until a freshman college course where we made 3x5 foot paintings. Life painting lessons at the Glasgow School of Art were a turning point. Studying abroad at an excellent art school had a profound effect on me, and I think that’s when I realized what being an artist would entail, and when I began those first steps on that path.

How has your style changed over the years?
Yes, and it varies by painting somewhat too. I think there are so many ways to paint, to get paint on the canvas, it's a shame to give any up, and it's always fun to learn more.

When did you know you wanted to be an artist?
As a kid, everyone told me I was one, so in that sense I always felt it was a possibility, but to really know myself? I guess in my 20’s I realized that the artist/maker part of me was the “core” part, around which the other parts came and went, so to speak, so in order to pay the bills I pursued jobs in and around museums and galleries as an art handler.

Why did you choose your medium?
Because it is the best one! (Kidding). Oil paint is the best choice for what I want to do, I suppose is the best answer. Oils look the same when they dry, and they generally have a long open/working time before they dry, but they also have a unique smell/flavor/creaminess rooted in antiquity that I am in love with. Oil paint is the one way I have found that I can translate the rich tones and colors in the photographs--“draw” them, recreate them with my hands--into something new and deeper.

What inspires you?
Travel is central to my work: the sensation of being in a new place, or a long-forgotten one. Travel brings out an awareness of the details in the mundane, the contrasts and signature elements of a place, and a perspective that helps to frame the scenes I am out to capture.

Where do you work?
I take photographs all over the world; I paint in my studio in Montague, MA.

What is your creative process like? How do you work?
Travelling, or at least outside exploring, I take loads of 35mm photographs, maybe a thousand over a week, then sift through the prints. One out of every hundred shots becomes a painting. I look for images that capture a memory as specifically as possible, that can stand alone as a memory in paint. The darkest darks inky black, highlights almost white, saturated colors in brightly sprinkled dots and chromatic greys sliding around behind. Something like a film still from life.

What do you like about being an artist in the valley?
There is a great awareness of the arts here, and a lot going on--although with 4 kids I haven’t seen as much as I would like! The unique blend of rural life and contemporary culture is one of the reasons my wife and I ended up here. There is a friendliness towards artists here, with so many full time and part time artists and hobbyists, and all the academia, it makes for an interesting and engaging environment, but with space to withdraw from it all and reflect and make.

Which artists do you admire?
I admire artists in many genres, but relative to my own work I’m interested in artists that span the divide between representation and abstraction, with a foothold in each. Chuck Close comes to mind. Richter’s landscapes. Turner. The visual/physical playfulness of sculptors like Caro, Calder, Andy Goldsworthy, Robert Long.

What is your favorite piece that you’ve created?
I love all my babies, but the painting on my easel is the one I am in love with. Seinfeld was asked a question about what was his favorite episode, and he responded something like “Making [an episode] is like breathing for me, so you’re asking me what is my favorite breath of air? My favorite at any one time is the one that I’m taking right now, the one that gets me to that next breath.”

Any advice to emerging artists?
Go for it.

And if you’re not ready to make your work yet, or you can’t, then live your life in anticipation of making your work. A close friend travelled to Italy ostensibly to make art as a student, but once she got there she realized she didn’t have anything to make art about, so she decided to just live. Make your life about your art, even if you’re not able to make the art yet.