The Picker Art Gallery invited Luis Ortiz to present the work and biography of illustrator Lee Brown Coye on Thursday, April 4. Coye is best known for his balance of a bizarre macabre style with commercial sensibility. He settled in Hamilton, NY in 1959 where, upon his death, he left his works to Colgate and surrounding locals. Ortiz, the author of “Arts Unknown: The Life & Art of Lee Brown Coye” (2005), has dedicated his life to finding and compiling images while recounting the artist’s past.
The talk consisted of a series of Coye’s images with commentary from Ortiz that left the audience in the dark about most of Coye’s life. Coye began his career illustrating for pulp fiction novels and horror magazines such as “Weird Tales.” This art consistently pushed boundaries, blurring the fine line between advertisement and contemporary art. Later in life, Coye pursued a less commercialized path. He left behind book covers for more personal motifs but never abandoned his technical training and eery subject matter.
Coye’s art often depicted otherworldly beings or occult happenings but was never so ethereal as to limit experimentation. When Coye experimented with the medium of sculpture, he created a considerable number of benign whales. But his illustrations always harkened back to the supernatural and grotesque images that populate stories by Poe and Lovecraft. On a fishing trip in a Hamilton forest, he stumbled across an unsettling configuration of sticks which he attributed to sinister origins. Almost all of his later art featured such sticks in an interlocking pattern.
Coye’s artwork remains controversial for its uncanny imagery, but Ortiz left much unsaid about any individual piece. Coye’s art continues to remain unanalyzed and unaltered by the public eye as it has been for years. A laundry list of art, comparable to the prolific talent of Coye, weakened the importance of any one piece. The talk soon devolved into a barrage of haunting images that melded into one blight on the eyes and mind.
“It was a lot to take in, especially for one talk. I don’t think I could name one piece because he just went through so many so quickly,” sophomore Michael Tom said.
The event hosted an almost entirely silver-aged audience, equally captivated by their own conversations as the art and presenter. After the presentation, the audience was invited to join Ortiz for wine, cheese and engaging discussion. The Picker Art Gallery, home to over 2,300 of Coye’s works, plans to release a catalogue and exhibit of Coye’s artwork in 2020.
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