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  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 4, No. 4, 2005
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by Lydia Schrufer

Christina Coleman has been painting for most of her adult life. She has exhibited in Canada and in Mexico. Her works are also found in corporations and in several private collections.

* * * * * * * * * *

What makes someone choose a career that, for the most part, offers so little financial reward or public understanding? I asked that question of artist Christina Coleman in her studio where paint spattered floor and stacks of paper and canvas exude a palpable feeling of activity and energy. I felt she had just put down the brushes and would take them up again as soon as I left.


Coleman’s passion for art and dance dates to her earliest memories. They provided the opportunity to escape her middle class Irish immigrant background to the more graceful cultural life she imagined for herself. As a young ballerina, she traveled throughout the world, living and working in many different countries. But even then she painted, embracing it as a form of meditation that allowed her to transcend ego preoccupations and the entanglements of the everyday world. Both disciplines have enabled her to achieve the perfection for which she is known. From her thrifty Irish roots, Christine learned to be creative with the most limited of materials, often working in tiny, draughty spaces. She has painted in both happy times and in devastatingly difficult times. Most recently, during the long illness and loss of her beloved friend and husband, it was her art that sustained her spirit and sanity. And while she admits to being a worrier and too empathetic for her own good, in the studio she is calm and in control.

© Christina Coleman: Portrait in Blue

Portrait Blue

Today, Cristina Coleman’s posture and bearing betray her extensive international dance experience, and her slim, agile body makes one doubt her seventy years. Her enthusiasm and contagious interest in every aspect of what’s new and happening in the art world is what makes her work fresh and daring. The edgy, contemporary art she produces is testimony to the unwavering discipline she demands of herself. Christina believes that if the work doesn’t come from the gut it isn’t worth doing -- and even less worth looking at.

© Christina Coleman: Accident of Birth

Accident of Birth

Christina is surrounded by nature, which is a continued source of inspiration. Organic elements such as branches, roots and plants are often integrated into her works. Evidence of her affinity for nature is everywhere in her studio and in her home: fragile birds’ nests artfully arranged on the window ledge, tortured branches that make a statement in a far corner, an arching frond of lacy grass placed in a simple vase at the base of which are laid beautiful rounded stones collected from a walk in the fields. There can be no doubt that these arrangements, in the sure hands of the artist, rise to the occasion of art where the fragility of the human condition and natural world are the recurring leitmotifs in her paintings, drawings and installations.

© Christina Coleman: Looking


Christina’s preferred medium is thick, black charcoal, which she sometimes wields like a delicate carving tool and which explains why her early work was more graphic than painterly. The images, primarily stylized figures in non specific environments, are rendered in distinctive, sensuous lines that seem carved into the surface. They occupy and energize the whole painting or drawing and are always positioned in just ‘the’ right place for maximum visual tension. She explains that her acutley developed awareness and instinctive ability to manipulate the elements and figures in her art were honed as a dancer where she would always be conscious of her physical position in relationship to other bodies and the many stages on which she performed.

© Christina Coleman: Dearth


If the artist’s early work was often monochromatic and earth toned, her later work is comprised of more painterly celebrations of color. Neverthless, a strong graphic element remains and her line still vibrates. Never satisfied or repetitive, Christina constantly explores and experiments with mediums, format and materials, and especially new ideas she yearns to convert into concrete visual realties. She is incurably curious and gutsy, and like an art explorer, loves to push the boundaries. Over the years, she has worked in many different materials, from printmaking to sculpture. What she regrets most is never having enough time or resources to realize all her projects. She would love to try her hand at huge installations. “Wouldn’t it be fabulous if one could work on the scale of, say, Louise Bourgeois or Joe Fafard or Richard Serra?” No matter what medium Christina uses to convey her ideas and emotions, her work elicits parallel feelings of sorrow and joy in her viewers, and corroborates her long-held belief in Jung’s theory of the collective unconscious. Minimalist artist Agnes Martin (1912-2004) insists that, “communication is what art is all about. Trying to bridge the gap between the maker and the viewer,” a view which Christina supports and to which she adds: "for the work to be complete and exist on its own merit, it has to be seen by others.”

© Christina Coleman: Untitled

Yet I Am Not a Tree

When I asked Christina what artists she admires and have influenced her, she laughed, replying, “they’re always changing because I never tire of looking at art, but I have a special affinity for Giacometti (1901-1966) and Francis Bacon (1909-1992). Francis Bacon broke the rules and changed what’s possible and Giacometti’s line and the environment he creates around his figures are so beautiful. I appreciate any artist who takes risks. No matter what technical advances occur, the human hand can never be replaced. What the hand creates is an endless surprising revelation.”

© Christine Coleman: Clothing Series

Clothing Series

Christina’s studio is an annex of her home where her art and living space are a seamless, creative ambience -- a celebration of elegant, imaginative living. Mixed into her living quarters are carefully chosen ‘objects’ placed here and there, as well as original paintings and drawings on her large, white walls which, for the occasion of my visit, were bathed in an abundance of natural light streaming in through floor-to-ceiling windows. Make no mistake about it, Christina Coleman lives in her art.

Christina continues to evolve as an artist because she isn't afraid to admit and learn from her mistakes. She’s her own toughest critic and well aware of the dangers of spending too much time in the comfort zone. “Failure has informed me as much as success,” she insists. “And every now and then you get it just right.” And to my original question at the top of this piece, she answered: “Art is my way of being. It’s as much part of me as breathing in and out.”

The poet Rainer Marie Rilke once said, “If you think you are capable of living without writing, do not write.” Perhaps that is why people choose a career in the arts; they just cannot live without creating.

For more information on the artist, please contact Arts Editor Lydia Schrufer.


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