Monday, March 21, 2011

Kirkland's Aaron Coberly Paints His Beautiful Portraits From Life

today the Kirkland Paper "KirklandPatch" published an article on me written by

Kirkland's Aaron Coberly Paints His Beautiful Portraits From Life

The realist figurative painter works creating video game characters by day while juggling roles as husband, father and artist.
TUCKED AGAINST the eastern border of Kirkland lies an unassuming mid-century rambler that houses several galleries worth of paintings. The artist, Aaron Coberly, creates video game characters for ArenaNet by day, juggling his other roles as husband, father and oil painter in his spare time.

“I really should spend more time promoting my art. My wife is always telling me to get myself out there,” says Coberly. “But I’d really rather spend my time painting.”

Coberly grew up in a rather unconventional environment. He lived the first half of his childhood in the “Love Israel Family” commune in Arlington, Snohomish County.

“I used to do a lot of carving. And there were horses, so I would draw horse heads,” remembers Coberly.

After moving to Kirkland in junior high, Coberly became fascinated with comic books, copying drawings into his sketchbooks. Not long after graduating from Lake Washington High School, he stumbled upon a local artist named Dean Williams, a teacher at the School of Visual Concepts and illustrator for the Seattle Times.

“I was working at the Gold’s Gym that used to be by the PCC in Kirkland. One day I noticed all these drawings up and asked my boss who made them. He told me it was a local guy named Dean Williams. I went and grabbed my high school sketchbook, feeling like Dean would be impressed. He was like, ‘Hmm, you need to learn how to draw.’”

Williams took Coberly under his wing, introducing him to observational drawing techniques through life drawing classes. Coberly soaked up the instruction on form, value and composition.

“Making art without having a foundation in [the basics] is like trying to write a book when you only know a few words. You might be able to get your point across, but you’re not going to have those intricacies, all those nuances. It’s about learning the language. You should keep reinforcing the fundamentals.”

When Williams moved to his current home in Los Angeles, Coberly followed him, working as his assistant and constant observer.

It was in L.A. that Coberly met his future wife, Brenda. She had spent some time living in London and really wanted to return. So, the couple moved to London, traveling around Europe.

“I love the Tate,” says Coberly of the London museum. “Last time I was in the Tate, I just sat for like an hour and looked at the Waterhouse and the Sargent [paintings].”

Coberly’s own work is classical realism, his medium oils. He paints portraits from life, with models both nude and in costume. One of his favorite pieces of art is at the Frye Art Museum in Seattle, painted by Nicolai Fechin.

“Fechin has this technique where he plays with the paint’s ability to reflect or absorb light. In the shadows, he makes the texture rougher so that the light just stops when it hits the canvas. But in the lighter part of an arm, let’s say, he’ll make these very smooth, glossy layers so that the light bounces back. When you stand back from it, you say, ‘That looks alive!’ What brings it to life is how he dealt with the surface.”

COBERLY STARTED out like many new artists, showing his work in coffee shops. Shortly after the birth of his son, Caspian, Coberly scored his first gallery show at the Black Lab Gallery in Ballard in 2002.

“You never think you’re ready to show your work,” says Coberly. “But when you get enough pieces that don’t have fundamental problems--Is the drawing correct? Are the colors and values basically correct?--then you’re ready.”

He’s since been picked up by the Fountainhead Gallery on Queen Anne, the Park Place Gallery in Kansas City and for a show at the Petley in Mayfair, England.

“Getting the show in England was my highest and lowest point,” says Coberly. “We were vacationing in England at the time and I was hitting the streets all over the city, passing out my cards and CD’s to galleries. Most of the time, the person working the desk at the gallery had no power to make decisions about shows and would stash my card in a box.”

But the Petley gallery owner happened to be in when Coberly walked through the doors. He took an interest in the image on Coberly’s card, going straight over to his computer to look up Coberly’s website. After a phone call to a third party, the owner decided on the spot to book a show for Coberly’s work.

“I was over the moon with excitement,” smiles Coberly. “So I spent loads of money framing and shipping my work later that fall. The day that my show opened, the London Times front page had a huge red arrow indicating the crashing economy. I only sold one painting.”

Coberly secured a space in the Art/Not Terminal Gallery in Seattle for drop-in model sessions. Any level of artist is encouraged to come to these figure drawing and painting events. The model fee is $10 per session. They offer Monday night and Saturday morning poses, with a variety of short gesture sessions and longer poses repeated for two weeks.

Most of Coberly’s paintings are done in one or two sessions.

“Ninety-nine percent of my work is finished in 2 ½ to five hours,” says Coberly, who rarely goes back into a painting. “Either you get a hit or you strike out.”

He’s never shown in Kirkland, though he expresses a desire to show at the Howard Mandville Gallery on Park Lane. And his biggest dream is to have a piece at the Tate in London.

Coberly loves the process of making art, loves making something happen. And sometimes he loves the outcome. The act of creation is one of the few ways to be thoroughly alive in the present moment. All energy is funneled into the act, forcing other distractions out of the mind.

“Sometimes, after I’ve been concentrating intensely, I’ll step back and actually be surprised at what I see. I’ll think, ‘I did that?’” Coberly says with a sense of wonder.

If he could change anything about the art world, Coberly insists that it would be the idea that one thing is right and another thing is wrong just because of current trends.

“If a collector invests a huge sum of money in a piece that he’s been told is the next big thing, it is in his interest to make sure that it does become the next big thing,” Coberly explains. “Every sort of art has validity if someone likes it.”

In his case, he’d like to see representational art be treated with more respect.

Without a doubt, Coberly’s beautiful paintings deserve a great deal of respect. They are soft, yet exciting, drawing the viewer’s eye to a well-planned focal point. Unimportant details recede. There is a push and pull of line and form that elevates his work beyond the mere copying of nature to a work of art.


Bill Sharp said...

Congratulations, Well deserved. You paint beautifully

Unknown said...

thanks Bill

Susan said...

I love your beautiful work and this is such a great article! Congratulations, Aaron!

BDub said...


Erica said...

I love your creativity!

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