There must be something in the water that supplies the 46807 zip code. The area is a spring of artistic talent. Once again I found myself rolling slowly down Nuttman Avenue, trying to eyeball the house number that matched the address on my notepad. The house I parked in front of had no numbers, but my gut told me it was the right place. The piles of canvas creeping up the walls of the screened porch gave it away; this was an artist’s lair.
I carefully stepped around paintings and rapped at the door. A bearded man with wrinkles of experience alluding to a wise soul opened the door.
“Hello,” he said, offering a hand. “I’m Gregg.” We sat down to chat, but to be honest, I was a bit distracted by all the work. Like toddlers hovering around a new visitor, Coffey’s creations filled the space around us. Paintings on the floor stared up at the ceiling. Groups of etchings stood propped in doorways. Dozens of pieces hung proudly on the walls while smaller pieces rested at odd angles in odd places, as if waiting to be acknowledged for their individuality and striking personalities.
Stacked on the floor, binders filled with thousands of slides tell the history and progression of Coffey’s work. He has a firm grasp on several techniques, including monotype print, etching, oil painting and drawing. He has lived his life studying philosophy, religion, ancient cultures, meditation techniques, and spirituality. His work reflects the layers of insight he has collected in his mind. Graphite, paint and ink externalize the life experiences Coffey has absorbed.
As a young BFA candidate, Coffey realized he didn’t quite jive with the professors at Indiana University. According to Coffey, his professors and instructors didn’t give him much feedback because they didn’t know how to feel about his work. I will admit, he lost me at “circular biomorphic canvases,” which I’m sure refers to something incredible, while appearing round and morphed.
Coffey describes his technique as “automatic painting,” stating the process is similar to jazz improvisation. “I might have a sketch of an idea, but I know when I start working I have to relinquish myself because another power takes over,” says Coffey. He begins with a thought and lets his mind twist and turn as the painting changes. He strives to connect with the spiritual world and then welcomes that world to guide his hand.
Coffey adds layers of paint, sometimes covering up early ideas completely and other times allowing shadows of the inner layers of a painting to show through, like images behind a sheer curtain. Coffey’s creative process involves tedious and meticulous attention to detail, combined with the application of thin layers of oil paint. He begins with subtle lines sketched in blue pencil then begins to apply oil paint thinned to a translucent consistency. He has no systemic technique. His paintings have no top or bottom, and he frequently rotates the canvas as he works which allows for finished pieces to be viewed at any angle.
Coffey explains his work doesn’t always reach the point of completion. To him, some pieces never feel finished. He may quit working but years later pick up his brush again and change a canvas completely. Coffey starts more work than he finishes and says he could spend the next two years just finishing paintings, drawings and etchings that aren’t ready for his signature.
Coffey has a brain that doesn’t quit, which is one reason he has amassed such a large collection of stalled canvases.
“New ideas are exhilarating,” he says. “It’s hard to step away from a thought that inspires a new piece.”
He also struggles with spending too much time on a single work, so much so that he states he sometimes “kills the spirit of the piece. I work hard to revive it, but sometimes a canvas just stays dead.” He is quick to add, “I am anal fixated, detail oriented; no apologies.”
After earning his BFA, Coffey wanted to take a deep dive into the art world. He was drawn to San Francisco State University where he studied under instructor John Ihle. Coffey was an admirer of Ihle’s work and considered him a highly respectable artist. While there, Ihle made a strong comment toward Coffey’s work. Ihle said to him, “Gregg, I think you have a problem with the artist label. You aren’t an artist; you are a visual poet.”
Surprisingly, Coffey did not take offense to hearing his respected mentor say the potentially crippling words, “You are not an artist.” Instead the comment triggered a realization that helped Coffey understand his own work. Even today he prefers to be thought of as a visual poet.
Coffey often feels frustrated with the art world. He doesn’t agree with the labels placed on people and the art they create. He feels art magazines are filled with “pretension and b.s.”
Nevertheless, he has learned to play the game. Coffey will often rework a painting just to fit a show, or he may simply change the title and write an artist statement to make the work fit the prospectus. Coffey doesn’t feel like he’s selling out when he makes adjustments to his work. I would guess he feels like he is pulling one over on the establishment.
Coffey explains that the titles of his works are jabs at society that include a punch of humor. His paintings’ titles are meant to be vague and often cynical. He recently showed two pieces at Wunderkammer’s Piecemeal show. As a pair, he named the paintings “Oriental and Accidental Bovine Persuasion.” No surprise, the subject was a cow, a sweet and matronly cow that Coffey describes as the incarnation of Mother Earth.
Wunderkammer was actually a factor in Coffey’s decision to stake claim to his new home on Nuttman. He wanted to be close to the gallery because he feels it is going to play a key role in Fort Wayne’s art scene. After living in Chicago for the past several years, Coffey recently returned to Fort Wayne. He needed a house that was quiet in a neighborhood with no distractions. For Coffey “getting into the zone is a courtship; it can take days.” His new place allows him to have three studios in his home. He has set up an etching studio in the basement, a drawing room on the main floor and an oil painting studio on the second floor.
Coffey explains he has always loved Fort Wayne. But he does think it is important for people to go out and live a little. “People should leave and bring something back with them,” he says. He feels that in this insular community it is good for people to go out and experience the world, then bring back some of the culture they soaked up on their adventure.
Happily, Coffey has returned to Fort Wayne where he can continue to let his spirit guide him through adventures on new canvases.
by Heather Miller
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Art on Broadway — Tours of 5 downtown venues featuring art from Alexandra Hall, Julie Wall, Peter Lupkin, Daniel Dienelt, Knotodday, Kay Gregg, Terry Ratliff and St. Monci, 5 p.m. Saturday, March 25, Broadway Street, Fort Wayne, free, 417-5925
Beer, Bourbon, Bacon Festival — Unlimited beer sampling from national and regional craft breweries, fine bourbon sampling and bacon inspired treats, 6-9 p.m. Saturday, March 25 (5-9 p.m. VIP), Marquis and Three Rivers Ballrooms, Hotel Fort Wayne, Fort Wayne, $35-$75, 484-0411
An Evening with Author Tom Frank — Author of What’s the Matter with Kansas talks about his new book; hors d’oeuvres, lecture and book signing included in admission, 6 p.m. Saturday, March 25, CS3 Hideaway, Fort Wayne, $15 plus donation, 602-1008
Puttin’ on the Ritz —Active 20-30 club fundraiser with live music from Chris Worth and Company, gourmet edibles, wine and beer, live and silent auctions; black tie optional, 7 p.m. Saturday, March 25, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, Fort Wayne, $50-$90, 450-2844
Shipshewana on the Road — Food, craft and primitives show and sale, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, March 25 and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday, March 26, Allen County War Memorial Coliseum, Fort Wayne, $4, 483-1111
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Big Dick and the Penetrators — Classic rock at Navy Club, Ship 245, New Haven, 7-11 p.m., no cover, 493-4044
Brat Pack — Rat Pack/variety at Nick's Martini & Wine Bar, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m., no cover, 482-6425
Cougar Hunter — 80s glam rock at Vinnie's Bar, Decatur, 10 p.m.-2 a.m., $5, 729-2225
Ellsworth Sharp — Neofolk at Friendly Fox, Fort Wayne, 6:30-8:30 p.m., no cover, 745-3369
FBC Band w/Sheba — Variety/Music and Memories benefit at C2G Music Hall, Fort Wayne , 8 p.m., $7-$15, 426-6434
Fireball Matinee — Rock at Hideaway Lounge, Bluffton, 9 p.m.-12 a.m., no cover, 824-0455
Fleshwounds — Rock at Hamilton House, Hamilton, 9 p.m.-1 a.m., no cover, 488-3344
Fort Wayne Funk Orchestra — Funk at Dupont Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 9:30 p.m., cover, 483-1311
Fu5ion — Variety at Mitchell's Sports Bar & Neighborhood Grill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m.-2 a.m., $3, (260) 387-5063
The Illegals — Rock at O'Sullivan's Italian Irish Pub, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m.-1 a.m., no cover, 422-5896
Joe Stabelli — Jazz at Don Hall's Gas House, Fort Wayne, 5:45-9 p.m., no cover, 426-3411
John Curran & Renegade — Country at Alley Sports Bar, Pro Bowl West, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-1 a.m., no cover, 483-4421
Johnny Freakin' Xcitor — Country rock at Beamer's Sports Grill, Fort Wayne, 9:30 p.m.-1:30 a.m., no cover, 625-1002
Kat Bowser — Variety at Don Hall's Guesthouse, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-12 a.m., no cover, 489-2524
The Orange Opera w/Mickyle James — Rock at Brass Rail, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., $5, 267-5303
Prime Suspects — Variety at American Legion Post 499, Fort Wayne, 8-11 p.m., no cover, 483-1368
Quincy and the Q-Tet feat. Phil Potts — Rock/variety at Downtown Eatery & Spirits, Warsaw, 10 p.m.-1 a.m., no cover, (574) 267-6000
Second Nature — Pop at Crazy Pinz, Fort Wayne, 8-11 p.m., no cover, 490-2695
Shannon Persinger Quartet — Jazz/variety at Club Soda, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-12 a.m., no cover, 426-3442
Todd Harrold & Nick Bobay Duo — R&B/blues/variety at American Legion Post 148, Fort Wayne, 7 p.m., no cover, 423-4751
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Ambitious Blondes Karaoke — Variety at Office Tavern, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 478-5827
Beat Karaoke & DJ — Variety at American Legion Post 296, Fort Wayne, 8 p.m. , no cover, 456-2988
Bucca Karaoke w/Bucca — Variety at Tower Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 436-6310
Classic City Karaoke w/Bryan Lee — Karaoke at Corner Pocket Tavern, Fremont, 10 p.m., no cover, 495-9255
Classic City Karaoke w/Tobin — Karaoke at Toad's Tavern, Monroeville, 10 p.m., no cover, 623-6226
DJ Shawn — Karaoke/variety at Club Paradise, Angola, 10 p.m., no cover, 833-7082
Fort Wayne Karaoke — Karaoke at Latch String Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 10:30 p.m., no cover, 483-5526
Fort Wayne Karaoke w/Brian — Variety at AJ's Bar and Grill, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m., , 434-1980
Fort Wayne Karaoke w/Josh — Variety at Arena Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 557-1563
Fort Wayne Karaoke w/TJ — Variety at Chevvy's, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 436-4748
House DJ — Variety at Early Bird's Ultra Lounge, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m., cover, 483-1979
House DJ — Variety at Flashback on the Landing, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m., cover, 422-5292
Karaoke — Variety at Crooner's Karaoke Bar, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m.-3 a.m., no cover, 486-1979
Live DJ — Variety at Wrigley Field Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 485-1038
Shooting Star Prod. w/Barbie — Variety at Uncle Lou's Steel Mill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 436-5787
Shooting Star Prod. w/Stu — Variety at Pike's Pub, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 478-6200
Sidecar Gary's Karaoke & DJ — Karaoke at Kville Pub, Kendallville, 9 p.m.-1 a.m., no cover, 348-1677
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The Children’s Hour — Lillian Hellman’s seminal drama about bigotry perpetuated against the LGBT community and how easily a lie can spread, 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 25, First Presbyterian Theater, Fort Wayne, $12-$20, 426-7421 ext. 121
Getting Sara Married — Comedy about an unmarried lawyer in need of a husband (according to her aunt), 7 p.m. dinner, 8 p.m. curtain, Saturday, March 25, Arena Dinner Theatre, Fort Wayne, $40 (includes dinner & show), 424-5622
One Foot in the Gravy — Howard Kingkade’s comedy and winner of Fort Wayne Civic Theatre’s Northeast Indiana Playwright Festival, 8 p.m. Saturday, March 25; 2 p.m. Sunday, March 26, Arts United Center, Fort Wayne, $10-$20, 422-4226
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22nd Annual Valentine’s Invitational — Works from local and national artists, Tuesday-Saturday and by appointment thru March 31, Castle Gallery Fine Art, Fort Wayne, 426-6568
2017 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards — Award-winning works from northern Indiana and northwest Ohio middle and high school students, Tuesday-Sunday thru April 9, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $5-$7 (members, free), 422-6467
Afros: A Celebration of African Hair by Michael July — Contemporary photography exhibit by Brooklyn author/photographer, daily thru April 14, D’Agostino Art Gallery, Indiana Tech, Fort Wayne, 399-8626
An Artful Spring — Works by Gwen Gutwein, Patricia Weiss, Austin Cartwright and more, Tuesday-Saturday thru March 31, Crestwoods Frame Shop & Gallery, Roanoke, 672-2080
Decatur Sculpture Tour — 31 original sculptures and 15 permanent exhibits on display, walking tour maps available, thru April 1, Decatur, free, 724-2605
Echolilia — Works from Timothy Archibald and his autistic son, Eli, Tuesday-Sunday thru June 11, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $5-$7 (members, free), 422-6467
Entropy — Daniel Swartz solo exhibition explores relationship between death and mourning through combinations of mythology, mathematics, multi-dimensional physics and pop culture, Monday-Saturday thru April 1, Jennifer Ford Art, Fort Wayne, 740-1309
Diane Allen Groenert — Exhibition of local artist’s Downtown Series and new works, Monday-Saturday thru June 24, West Central Microcreamery & Cafe, Fort Wayne, 415-9293
Expressions of Existence — An exhibition of works by artists through history, including Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, Francisco Goya and others whose works have been influenced by disabilities, Tuesday-Sunday thru June 11, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $5-$7 (members, free), 422-6467
Fort Wayne Artist Guild Exhibitions — Works by Alice Siefert at Aldersgate United Methodist Church, Jennifer Caudel at Allen County Retinal Surgeons, Anita Trick, Citizens Square (2nd and 3rd floors), Darlene Selzer Miller at The Einhaus Group for Women’s Health, Patricia Weiss at Heritage of Fort Wayne, Emily Jane Butler at Ophthalmology Consultants (Southwest), Linda Binek at Ophthalmology Consultants (North), Carolyn Stachera at Rehabilitation Hospital of Fort Wayne, John Kelty at ResCare Inc. Adult Day Service, Wiletta Blevins at Town House Retirement, Karen Bixler at Visiting Nurse Hospice and Barb Yoder and Karen Harvey at Will Jewelers, thru April 30, fortwayneartistguild.org.
Fort Wayne Photographers Club — Exhibition featuring local photographers, Tuesday-Sunday thru April 30, Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory, Fort Wayne, $3-$5 (2 and under, free), 427-6440
Garden Party — Garden-themed works in a variety of mediums from over 30 local artists, Monday-Saturday thru March 31, Orchard Gallery of Fine Art, Fort Wayne, 436-0927
Generations: A View of Who Was Who — Works by Romare Bearden, Kara Walker, Alma Thomas, Jacob Lawrence and other African-American artists, Tuesday-Sunday thru April 9, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $5-$7 (members, free), 422-6467
Glass: A Medium in Art and Automobiles — Dale Chihuly blown glass and fiberglass auto, daily thru Sept. 8, Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum, Auburn, $7.50-$12.50, 925-1444
A Mary Poppins Garden Party — Child-oriented garden exhibit, Tuesday-Sunday thru April 1, Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory, Fort Wayne, $3-$5 (2 and under, free), 427-6440
Moments in Time: Reflecting on the Human Spirit — Elizabeth Opalenik photographs from her recent Amish series A Journey Home and her Reflecting on the Edge exhibition, daily thru March 26, Visual Arts Gallery, IPFW, Fort Wayne, 481-6709
Outdoor Sculpture Invitational — Fifteen outdoor sculptures from regional artists, daily thru April 30, School of Creative Arts campus, University of Saint Francis North Campus, Fort Wayne, 399-7999
RAW. Untamed. Unashamed. Visions of Freedom. — Abstract romanticist works in acrylics and epoxy from Kristy Jahn, Fridays and Saturday-Thursday by appointment thru March 25, The Gallery at Pranayoga, Fort Wayne, 423-9642
Sharon — An exhibition of Leon Borensztein photographs chronicling the struggles he faced raising his severely disabled daughter, Tuesday-Sunday thru June 11, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $5-$7 (members, free), 422-6467
Wabash County Schools Exhibition — Works by high school art students, daily thru April 16, Clark Gallery, Honeywell Center, Wabash, 563-1102