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 James E. Coe  (1957 - )

About: James E. Coe


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Lived/Active: New York      Known for: bird identity guide and impressionist landscape painting

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Best known for his realistic field-guide illustrations of birds, James Coe has begun creating impressionistic plein-air renderings of landscapes.

Encouraged by his acceptance into the 1980 Birds in Art Show at the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum at age 23, (one of the two youngest artists) he took this as encouragement to pursue formal art training.  He began by earning a biology degree at Harvard University, a master of fine arts at Parson's School of Design in New York City, and then spent 30 years birding.

During his years at Parson's, he worked with both bird illustration and looser, impressionistic work in oils.  After graduation, Coe began illustration work for three books over the next 10 years, which left little time for other art.  In 1994, Coe published his field guide, Eastern Birds, by Golden Press, which is currently his best known book.

When his original publisher's bankruptcy caused work on a second volume of Western birds to stall, Coe seized this opportunity to try something new.  "I decided to use the time and the freedom to paint what I wanted to paint.  It was a wonderful, liberating experience to go outside with oils, canvas and easel after having been tethered to my drafting board for so many years."

The next three years were dedicated to painting only landscapes, following the 15 years spent solely on bird illustrations.  Recently the artist has begun to tie the two together. "This allowed me to work loosely and confidently on the birds so that the handling of the birds and the landscape can be equally deft because I'm not hesitating.  I know the bird well. If you waver and start fiddling, that's where tightness creeps into your painting."


Joan Brown, "James Coe: Changing Focus" Wildlife Art, May/June 2003

Biography from Windham Fine Arts:
Artist and naturalist James Coe is known nationally as the author and illustrator of the Golden Field Guide, Eastern Birds.  He has contributed illustrations to numerous other bird guides, as well, including the recently reissued Easy Bird Guide: West, and Birds of New Guinea, and to Frank Gill’s classic college textbook Ornithology.

Jim Coe is also a widely-exhibited painter of plein air (on site) landscapes.  His landscape paintings, which typically feature natural settings and rural scenes from New York’s Hudson River Valley and Northern Catskill region, are recognized for their naturalistic palette and painterly handling.

Jim’s artwork was the subject of a feature article in the May-June 2003 issue of Wildlife Art, and his landscapes have been featured in Fine Art Connoisseur (formerly Plein Air magazine).

His paintings have appeared on the covers of Sanctuary, Bird Watcher's Digest, Birding World, and The Auk, the professional journal of the American Ornithologist’s Union.

A signature member of the Society of Animal Artists, Coe has exhibited in the Society’s annual exhibition, as well as the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum’s "Birds in Art", and in the Bennington Center for the Arts’ annual “Art of the Animal Kingdom” and “Impressions of New England” shows.

He is represented in permanent collections of the New York State Museum, Hiram Blauvelt Art Museum, Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum, Massachusetts Audubon Society, and Bennington Center for the Arts.

The technique that Jim Coe has honed during the past decade of painting in plein air, where speed and instinct are vital to capturing on canvas the fleeting light and dynamic conditions of the landscape, are analogous to skills he had developed previously for sketching an active bird as it foraged or preened.  Both rely on careful observation and an astute visual memory.

In his recent studio paintings, Coe has moved to synthesize the two disparate genres represented in his work.  Melding the freshness of a plein-air reference study with the ornithological expertise accrued during 35 years of birding, he has begun to introduce into his large studio landscapes a bird that he heard or observed while on site.  This avian element is added judiciously and naturally; rendered with the same painterly touch as the rest of the canvas.  In effect, this artist hopes to simulate in these recent paintings the visual experience of birdwatching; he hopes that the bird will add a grace note of life into the complicated orchestration of the landscape.

James Coe grew up in the suburbs of New York City.  As a youngster, he was fascinated by the egrets and shorebirds he spotted in nearby tidal marshes, and he quickly learned to identify many of the birds he found around town.  He began to paint when, with a friend, he set out to compile a field guide to the local birds.  His first drawing was published in The Living Bird Annual when he was just 18 years old.  He went on to study biology at Harvard, but received no formal education in art until he attended graduate school as a young adult. In 1984, he earned an MFA degree in painting from the Parson’s School of Design in New York.

Today Jim Coe lives with his wife and two children in a farmhouse on the Western rim of the Hudson River Valley. He continues to seek a balance between his plein air landscapes and larger studio canvases of birds in natural settings.  He also teaches weekend landscape painting workshops.

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