Wayne Coe Artist Statement

I'm an interdisciplinary artist using performance, painting, ceramics and in drawings. Sand is quintessentially about time, about mortality and meaning.  Sand painting comes from a long tradition of sacred and temporary art. I was drawn to sand painting by the near death of my brother; an instinctual choice of public practice to mediate anxiety about the “immediacy”, meaninglessness and irrevocability of sudden death.

The work reflects transience of community and immateriality and my ceramic work challenges transience & immateriality by preserving sand painting in ceramic tile. Through 70’s and 80’s iconography from the age of aids, I excavate New Yorker’s emotions from that traumatic period; evoke a forbidden nostalgia.  Performing on the street at art market and historic porn theater locations, my evocations engage passing audiences, “speakers”, who explain and expand this social narrative.  I’m making videos to record and explore these branching connections.  The common ground between myself as a “strait” man and historic gay contributions to American contemporary art is a theme.  Sand painting connects more broadly that art culture: Sufi, Tibetan, Mexican Catholics, Hopi all became directly engaged: hosts of world religions have sand painting traditions.  The sand painting act is religious, resolutely non-commercial, sand painting’s power expands exponentially as it transcends; cross-cultural, cross gender, cross ages, cross language, boundarylessness.

Wayne Coe Artist Statement (2008)

With a degree in Film and Illustration from Art Center College of Design, Coe has spent 20 years painting in Hollywood, both as a feature film director on Grim Prairie Tales and an award winning title/special effects artist on projects such as OUT OF AFRICA, BRAZIL, SEVEN, MINORITY REPORT and SPIDER-MAN I & II & III and ARGO.  Painting what he knows best, the "Master of Disaster" applies formal virtuosity to real or quasi-real events.

"The contemporary confusion of what's a real event and what's fiction used to deeply upset me,” comments Coe.   “I work in the entertainment industry creating those misperceptions, those hyper-real fictions for consumption. What I see now is the consumer being consumed.  Painting real events from certain positions shames and excites in a very pornographic way.   The confusion/collision of reality with fantasy opens up issues of self-immolation, insanity, sexual perversity, betrayal, social upheaval and war that fascinate me in the plays of the Greeks, especially Euripides.  These are the sideeffects of perpetual war."

Media is the number one problem of our time.

August 2004

In Media, there is no separation between reality and fantasy.  It’s all fantasy.  Filmmaking is subjective, like a painting.  You get as much information from an artist’s rendering of an event as you do from a photo.  When you film an event you get one sliver point of view of the event and the other 360% dimensional ball of surrounding relevant information is missed.  99.9% of the information is excluded.  Is this “coverage”?  Is this “news” or the “event”?

An artist, said, “I saw the second plane hit the tower.  You can’t tell me it didn’t hit the tower.”  I said, “I saw a thirteen year old girl, possessed by the devil, turn her head in a 180 degree circle.”   The point is, we were both watching media, and were influenced not by an event, but by a film -- a aestheticized shot with sound attached. 

Film is subjective, like a painting.  The painter is communicating ideas through a medium.  A camera shot of a real event is as subjective as a painting.  There is no NEWS on TV, only entertainment.

9/11 was first and foremost a highly successful TV movie, seen “live” by billions and later in reruns, over and over, with spin-off books, tapes, DVDs, polemical debates and wars.  Less than a 100th of a percent of the world witnessed or was directly affected by the event of that day.  It was marketed exactly like a blockbuster.  The world was primarily affected by media.

In film, the size of the shot determines how we feel about the event.  Rosselini’s ROME: OPEN CITY was the first to kill a lead character in a wide shot.  Distance dehumanizes, objectifies; the point of view conveys  “Ana Magnani died like a dog.”   600 mm shots of jumpers from the Trade Center TOLD us these people were dying like ants.  They were disempowered by the Media’s choice to shoot and show those shots photographed from a half mile away.  The Media directed - or manipulated - our reaction by such choices.

I painted a 6’ x 12’ canvas of a jumper to scale, falling as seen from above -- down the building.  At first, the shock appeal drew me to it, but soon I was given a new perspective on the jumper, a medium shot, and was forced to consider the personal relationship between this worker, his workplace and the events at hand, after which I came to a whole different set of feelings.  The person seemed heroic, to have chosen his death; like Sophocles’ Ajax, he seemed to have reinvested himself with dignity.   Although the Gods humiliated him in life, they were cheated of their choice of his ignominius death.  The worker is ennobled.  I could not have come to this conclusion from a distancing telephoto view.

A good way to examine the limitations of documentary evidence, is to put it under empirical stress tests.  The Rodney King trial used a video tape, declaring it to be the “event,” but  the indicted police officers walked.  This upset the general public, which perceived injustice had been done.  What had the Jurors seen that led them to judge the police officers “not guilty”?   They saw a degraded wide shot of five officers hitting a man on the ground with their batons.  Wide shots show geography, context, spatial relationships.  They communicate broad landscape and movements, but not personal relationships (medium shot) or thinking, reacting (close-ups).  When jurors heard that Rodney King’s car had to be chased down by the police, that King, intoxicated, left the car and attacked the police officers, they formed an emotional opinion about the footage they were shown.  The man in the car with King, who did not leave the car or attack an officer, remained unharmed.

My second example is the The LA Four, a group of young men who beat truck driver Reginald Denny shortly after the Rodney King verdict came out.  This act was also captured in a wide shot from a Helicopter, probably with a 600mm lens.   The footage showed 4 youths throwing things at, kicking and hitting Denny.  Three were released on minor assault charges, but one got 8 years for mayhem.  In the wide shot, it was impossible to ascertain the mental state of the three youths.  But one youth did a victory dance after throwing a brick at Denny’s head.  Even in a wide shot this communicated an emotional state.  Why would a person do a victory dance after throwing a brick at another persons head?   The gesture was sufficiently large to communicate an emotional state over a long distance in a wide shot.  The youth hung himself.