Don Coen paints what he knows. He was raised on a ranch near Lamar, Colorado where he was part of every aspect of ranch life, including appreciating the work of migrant workers in the fields nearby. In addition to major paintings illustrating the ranch life of cows, trucks, and animals, in 1990, Coen started traveling to photograph, and to ultimately paint, the hard-working migrants who picked and sorted the crops that become the produce we eat every day. Coen’s dignified realistic portraits are character studies of people connected directly with the land.
Coen was first drawn to workers around Greeley in a field ripe with vegetables. This experience sparked The Migrant Series, and it is now a project of nearly twenty years. His large-scale painting technique stems from his early career as an abstract expressionist painter of large colorful canvases. The paintings in The Migrant Series are achieved by skill with an airbrush that allows him to put down large veils of color. These paintings have nearly 60 layers of transparent airbrush paint, and when you get close to them, they look completely abstract. This abstraction harkens back to Coen’s early painting days, for which he credits Mark Rothko’s large color field paintings as an influence.
Coen has created 15 larger-than-life scale portraits that emphasize the pride and humanity of the workers; each has a story that is communicated by Coen’s unflinching look at the migrants. “Because I spent my childhood doing the intense manual labor required to run the farm, I have tremendous respect for all the people who work our land,” Coen said.
Guest curated by Ann Daley.
Don Coen’s work is in private and public collections throughout the West, including: the Denver Art Museum, the Phoenix Museum of Art, the Foxley Company collection, the Whitney Gallery of the Buffalo Bill Museum of Western Art, and the Bodin Art Collection in New York, among many others. He received his BA from the University of Denver and his MFA from the University of Northern Colorado.
Ann Daley has been active in the Denver art community since 1977 when she was hired by the Denver Art Museum to be Curator of American Art. She was Associate Curator of the Petrie Institute of Western American Art from 1997 to 2008, and has been curator of the Captiva Resources collection since 1985. Daley was the first curator of the Coors Western Art Exhibit and Sale at the National Western Stock Show, and has remained on its board of advisors. She was a member of the Commission on Arts and Venues for six years. Daley is the author of Landscapes of Colorado, and various other publications. She received her BA in American Studies from the University of Wyoming and her MA in Art History from University of Denver.
Thank you to our generous sponsors for their support of this exhibit: Robin & Kevin Luff, Sue Schweppe, Nicky Wolman & David Fulker, Noel & Tom Congdon, City of Boulder, Boulder Arts Commission, Scientific & Cultural Facilities District, Colorado Creative Industries, and National Endowment for the Arts.