Carefully Planned Spontaneity
Meet September's Artist of the Month, Deborah Addison Coburn
As a painter and printmaker, Deborah Addison Coburn literally takes apart common artistic practices as she cuts apart her works to create a new piece with new purpose. This technique allows her to exercise her ability to create a vision of controlled chaos. Working layer by layer, Deborah creates a harmonious space in which an organic, abstract work is formed. Whether it resembles a figure or a landscape depends on the viewer.
What first got you interested in the arts?
I've always been interested in the arts. Even as a little kid, I used to entertain myself by drawing cartoony characters and telling myself stories about them. I took art classes, music lessons, dance classes, acting and mime classes; you name it.
Ever had an incredible breakthrough moment in your artistic practice?
I always had a hard time disciplining myself to work regularly. Then I got into a painting critique group that meets once a month. Knowing that I have to have something new to show every month provides the discipline I need to have a regular artistic practice. It's not exactly a creative breakthrough, but it was an important change which made me feel like I could legitimately call myself an artist.
We know that you make some of your collages by cutting up your drawings. What first led you to do that? Was it scary taking scissors to your work?
I was cleaning out my studio, that was filled with lots of old figure drawings, some of which had water damage on the edges. I trimmed off the damaged edges, and tossed them casually on top of some other drawings. When I saw how the drawing strips broke up the drawings underneath, I like the way it looked. That led me to cut up more drawings, even undamaged one, and started piecing them together. Anyone who's taken figure drawing classes ends up with piles of old drawings that might not be good enough to frame, but have something interesting in them that makes them hard to throw out. Cutting them up and re-using them was my solution, and it wasn't scary for me at all.
Ever been struck by inspiration at a surprising moment?
After the 2016 election, I was so devastated that I was thinking of taking a break from doing art to devote myself to the "Resistance." At the time, I was in the process of scanning and organizing some old photos of my mother's family, taken back in Poland in the 1930's. I got the idea of doing drawings based on old family photos of my mother's family and families representing other ethnicities and religions, to celebrate the rich diversity of cultures that immigrants bring to this country. That became my statement of Resistance. This collection of family drawings is what my upcoming solo show, "One Family," is about.
You were a student of William Christenberry. What kind of influence did his teachings have on your work?
Seeing his artwork and learning about his background showed me how I could use my own life or political feelings to create art that sends a message as well look beautiful.
Do you set out with an image in mind, or let the work lead you where it will?
When I'm painting abstractly, I like to work out the composition first, by arranging my pieces into a collage, so that when I start a painting, I have a pretty good idea of what it's going to look like, at least at the beginning. It's after I finish copying the composition onto the canvas then the fun part begins, because then I can play around with the composition and color, etc. But I can't just start with a blank canvas; that's very scary to me.
Is there something you do when you're feeling "stuck" in your artistic practice, to get going again?
If I don't have any ideas, I resort back to cutting up my old work. That's how I deal with lack of inspiration.
Anything else you'd like to add?
Before I started this project, I had only been working abstractly for about 12 years, so it was quite a change to start working figuratively again. But I really enjoyed the challenge.
Works featured in this post are available for purchase. Contact email@example.com for inquiries, or shop Deborah's work in the online store, linked above.