EK Interview: Troy Coulterman


Troy Coulterman has a show premiering at Hellion Gallery in Portland, OR, this Thursday, December 3rd. Surreal and absurd, his art is colorful and eye-catching, take a look at his interview and roll to the show if you happen to be in Portland!

Please introduce yourself and tell us about the show.

My name is Troy Coulterman. I am a Canadian artist living in Guelph, Ontario. The show titled “Attuned” is happening at Hellion Gallery in Portland, Oregon. The show consists of 13 wall mounted sculptures of heads or bodies encased in forms that are meant to represent an emotional state or some form of adapting to the external environment. This is my second time showing with Hellion gallery.


Your sculptures are visual metaphors for anomalies and emotional states, how do they relate to you? Where are you, mentally, and ideologically, when you work? What external sources nourish you as an artist? And how is that nourishment reflected in your work?

I’m always trying to find a way to filter through all the information that is thrown at us in our daily lives. I don’t want to get rid of any of it because I think there is some value in all of it. Instead, I take the information and find a rhythm and a form to it to highlight how one can thrive in this environment that often seems chaotic and filled with outside pressures. That is what I am attempting to get at in the recent series of works for “Attuned”. The heads I sculpt or encase with these helmets or vessels. They have almost become these protective coverings or some way to find a certain wave or frequency in the world around the subjects.


How does color theory calculate into your work, if at all? You use incredibly vibrant colors throughout all your work, what does this use of color mean to you? What response do you hope it will elicit from your viewers?

Colour theory used to be important to me when I started, but the more sculptures I paint, choosing a colour palette became more natural. Using these vibrant colours for me is a way to seduce the viewer into delving into my work. I don’t always make the most attractive looking figures. Sometimes they have double chins, buck teeth or blobs encasing them. Also, the sculptures can sometimes portray some intense feeling, so I am using these vibrant colours to intensify that emotion. Ultimately, I think it is these vibrant colours that make these sculptures a little more approachable .


Is access to meaning important? When an artist makes a piece of art, does it matter if the meaning comes across to the viewer? Or does it just matter that the evokes a sense of feeling in the viewer? What is the purpose of art? Is there an inherent need for it to be functional? Or a lack of functional purpose liberating, such that it allows artists to do whatever they want, free of any requirement to meet a need?

Meaning is important to me when I am working on a sculpture. If I have somewhat of an idea or intent while I’m working it keeps me grounded and prevents me from getting lost through the process. It doesn’t matter to me if that meaning translates over to the viewer though, because I can’t expect everyone to be on the same wave length. I can use titles as a hint to the viewer of my intent, but through experience people’s interpretations of a sculpture can vary and that is the best part. I know when I see a work in a gallery that I don’t quite understand, I leave still thinking about it, coming up with my own interpretation. I think a little ambiguity is a good thing and that’s what can resonate with people after experiencing a work of art.


Your work is influenced by comic books, which ones? We revere comic book heroes like deities and aspire to be like them, whether good or bad, for better or for worse. Would you agree that comic book heroes are our new gods?

Anything by artists like Winsor McCay, James Kochalka, Charles Burns, Chris Ware or Jamie Hewlett and the list goes on and on. Animation is also a big influence. I grew up watching animators like,John Kricfalusi and Bill Plympton. I was never really into superhero comics, I grew up reading stuff like MAD or Cracked Magazine. I don’t think comic book heroes are our new gods, but there are always some sort of moral lesson to learn from the characters in comic books. Maybe comic books have become more of our new holy books.


As someone who depicts emotion and absurdity, how has your work influenced or informed your worldview? What parts of the human condition do you find most curious? Which do you find least appealing? How does your work address, discuss, and serve as a medium for your own interpretation of and interaction with humanity in a macroscopic sense, and your own personal relationships in a microscopic sense?

The work doesn’t influence or inform me, it is the other way around. The work is influenced by my worldview and my hope is for the viewer to get some sense of that when they experience the work. I grab inspiration from the day to day experiences or observations and find the absurdity in it, critique it and find some humour in it. Whether it be what pushes people to go crazy on black Friday for a cheap toaster and television or swiping through the endless amount of data on our cell phones. This is where the inspiration starts and it takes on a life of its own when I make a sculpture, it can get a little muddled along the way, but that’s where the original spark happens. I’m never trying to make any grand statements about the human condition and as an artist I’m trying to simplify things. In the end I leave it up to the audience to decide how well the work addresses humanity and hopefully how they interact with their own personal relationship to it.


Which is your favorite piece from the show? Where did the idea for the piece come to you? How did it start? How did the finished resemble the original idea? How had it changed?

“Attuned to Madness”, probably because it is my most recent sculpture. It began with simply making the decision to sculpt the head of a hare, with no other reason besides just wanting to sculpt that. Each sculpture doesn’t work this way, I usually have some idea, but when I’ve run out of ideas I just start sculpting something for fun and seeing where it goes. .Sometimes the idea for a piece is only possible thanks to the creative act, and then the artistry can develop through the idea then emerges.


What have you learned from the body of work in this show? Emotionally, about yourself as a person; ideologically, about yourself as an artist; and about art itself?

The work for the Hellion Show is an extension of the work I’ve been doing for a few years now and I’m still learning new things as I navigate through it. If anything, I’ve learned through making the work, my experience as an artist and art itself is that everything is unpredictable. It’s probably the most exciting, but also the scariest part of sending the sculptures out into the world. All I can hope for is the best and that people appreciate what I do.