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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Serengeti Safari

Art Review

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  A new exhibit at Tory Folliard Gallery explores wildlife in the African Serengeti. The portraits showcased in “Marion Coffey: Kenya and Tanzania Safari” unleash the untamed and vibrant personalities of wild animals that roam on foreign soils yet are rarely seen outside of cages in America.

  Through broad applications of textural paint, Coffey captures the essence of these animals in a procession of colors displaying sunset oranges, flamingo pinks and royal purples. Brave brush strokes create the lines of the giraffe’s mouth, an irregular set of circles on the cheetah or a curve of an elephant’s tusk. With each touch of paint, Coffey deftly sculpts these creatures on paper, using recollections from her travel sketchbooks.

  In Elephants on Parade, a quartet of these mammals walks gently and proudly through a color-blocked background. In Three Giraffes on Purple,these tall beasts, covered in turquoise and orange spots, stretch their necks from the corner of the picture through a deep lavender haze to gaze at an invisible world surrounding them. Coffey creates a skillful swirl of wings for the feathered birds of Five Flamingos.

  The majority of Coffey’s animals exist in intense color. This recalls the approach of the Fauves, French for “wild beasts,” whose liberal experiments with different techniques at the beginning of the 1900s appear to have served as inspiration for Coffey. Yet several of the creatures inhabit more muted landscapes. When viewers stare into the dignified face of Bibi Cheetah, angularly defined as a large feline with purple spots and periwinkle eyes on brilliant colored paper, they sense the artist’s appreciation for wildlife. Coffey’s images might even be more captivating to viewers than seeing the actual animals confined in zoos. In her paintings, the animals can enjoy unfettered space and retain their regal countenances.

  Coffey’s current collection at the gallery differs from the original exhibit that opened on June 6, as several of her paintings have been sold. Folliard replaced the purchases with fresh compositions from this prolific artist to enhance the exhibition. While the show is slated to end on July 5, one hopes that Coffey, still immensely capable and young at heart, resumes her yearly sojourns and returns to Milwaukee with more of her optimistic and inimitable visions of the world.