Michael Coleman was born in Provo, Utah in 1946. As a landscapist and painter of Native Americans and mountain men, he paints in the tradition of the Rocky Mountain School. He lives in Provo, Utah.
Coleman received his formal education at Brigham Young University, but left when he felt he could make more progress on his own. His artistic inspiration came from nineteenth-century painters such as Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Moran, and the animal painter, Carl Rungius. His vision of nature came from years of hunting, fishing, and trapping.
In 1977, his work was exhibited at Cowboy Hall of Fame. His work was also featured in a one-man show for the Kennedy Galleries in New York. Indian Camp (1991) and Rocky Mountain Goats (1995) are examples of his two-dimensional work.
Biography adapted from Artists of Utah.
Michael Coleman was born in Provo, Utah, in 1946. As a child, he spent every possible moment outdoors. When he wasn't fishing, hunting, or trapping, he wandered around, looking at everything he could see. When he got home, he'd draw what he'd seen, not only to recapture the images but also to recapture the feelings, the whole experience.
Coleman says he'd bring home birds he'd shot and set them up in his bedroom so he could look at them while he drew. He'd keep the birds there until his mother made him throw them out because they were stinking up the house. Coleman carried a sketchbook constantly and learned early to pay attention to detail and to see what the scene consisted of instead of what he thought was there (as most of us do).
Surprisingly, Coleman was not encouraged by his art teachers. In high school, pieces he'd submitted to an art contest were rejected by the judges, who refused to believe he had painted them. In addition, Coleman's chosen style was not then in favor.
When Brigham Young University built a new Arts building in the mid 60s, Coleman decided to visit. On the walls of the Fine Arts Center were oil paintings looking the way Coleman knew he wanted to be able to paint. The scenes were almost larger than life, full of radiant light and lush shadows, evocative and daring; they projected “... an aching sense of the grandeur and majesty of wildlife and wilderness. “ Coleman didn't know the names of these marvelous artists--Thomas Moran, Alfred Bierstadt--but he assumed they were B.Y.U. faculty members and could teach him to paint like they did. So Coleman, changing his plans, enrolled at Brigham Young University.
Once in the art classes, Coleman learned that the artists whose work he had fallen in love with were of course, not on the faculty, but in fact, were 19th-century artists of the Rocky Mountain School of painting--the “Hudson River School of the West.“ What's more, he didn't like the way the faculty members painted, and they didn't like the way Coleman painted. After three years, Coleman left B.Y.U., feeling as if he had wasted his time. He knew, and had known for a long time, exactly what and how he wanted to paint. He wasn't interested in what anyone else thought art should be. He knew what his art should be.
The one thing Coleman did take advantage of at B.Y.U. was the chance to study carefully the paintings he liked. He took them down and outside, where he examined them in the sunlight. Those paintings taught Coleman what was possible to do with paint. Portrayed in the paintings were the kinds of feelings he had experienced in the outdoors, the feelings he wanted to capture and to project in his own work. And the paintings told Coleman that in spite of his not knowing the techniques to use, the possibility of learning them was there waiting for him.
So Coleman went home and taught himself to paint. He credits his ability to see, honed by the years spent in the outdoors, for much of his success as a painter. He says that just looking has taught him. . .“ more about painting than anything else.“ Trying to avoid preconceived notions about how things look has allowed him to see all kinds of details, like colors as they really are, a multitude of subtle shades making up generalizations like gray, the color of a deer hide.
At the age of 21, Coleman had his first one-man show. During the next few years he painted a series of sympathetic portrayals of Plains Indians and “Mountain Men.“ The painting Indian Burial is from this period and was painted when he was only 26. This painting exemplifies Coleman's attention to detail and to accuracy. Coleman has spent, and continues to spend, enormous amounts of time immersing himself in the subject matter he paints. When asked recently about whether his immense collection of wildlife and artifacts has been assembled in order to have them to look at to inspire him while he paints, or whether he paints those things because he has collected and likes them, he simply answered “yes.“ Michael Coleman paints what he knows and loves.
Some of Coleman's more recent paintings take a closer view of nature and picture small slices of life in the wild: two birds framed by old antlers and nestled against a rock, a martin standing over the grouse it has just killed. Coleman is increasing the amount of texture in his paintings and using a brighter, richer palette of colors. The time spent painting ten hours a day when he is home and drawing. He sketches on his many hunting trips shows in his draftsmanship.
Coleman uses his frequent hunting trips to gather material as well as to explore and indulge his love of the outdoors. Real-life sketches of scenes from his trips may be combined or modified or have bits and pieces of then used in his paintings. On the corners and margins of his sketchbook are notes to himself, information about the trip, ideas for a composition, details of color, clothing, or a way to render the subject.
While in the field, he may use pencil or gouache to flesh out one specific section of the drawing or to give him color ideas, then, back in the studio and using his artifacts and trophies, the ideas will be painstakingly painted, using his props for authenticity and color.
Coleman's paintings of Indians, trappers, hunters, and wildlife, all evoke a similar emotion. Although the details are accurate, the view is of nature and man at peace and unified. Michael Coleman is a romantic. His Indian paintings exemplify the idea of the noble savage at one with his environment. The people are proud and self-contained. So too, Coleman's hunters. They're returning from successful hunts, weary maybe, but replete and satisfied. And even in death, the slain animals of his paintings retain their beauty and dignity. They bring to mind the ancient myths of animals being honored to be killed by mighty hunters; they seem to have given themselves gracefully, even if not gratefully.
Throughout all his paintings, Coleman's love for the atmospheric effects of Bierstadt and his contemporaries can be seen; you can almost feel the delicate mistiness and the pre-dawn chill or the golden warmth of the sun on an autumn day. It is probably for his ability to rekindle our senses that Michael Coleman's work is so popular. His paintings are the distillation of all our memories of those perfect moments in the wilderness.
Although Coleman tends to shun group shows and contests, he has won awards such as the prestigious Gold Medal from the National American Wildlife Association, and he has paintings in galleries, innumerable private collections, museum exhibitions, and has been published in books and magazines. However, what is important to Michael Coleman is that he continues to improve his art each day and that his kindred spirits, guides, outfitters, and professional hunters continue to “go nuts about his paintings“ because they have been drawn into his paintings and shared something elemental with him.
Davis, Tom. “The Art of Looking Closely: Michael Coleman.“ Wildlife Art News IX No. 6: 36-45 Minneapolis
“A Hunter's Sketchbook.“ Sports Afield Vol. 191 No. 7: 64-69 New York
Biography courtesy Springville Museum of Art
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