Artist Studio | John Coleman

By Bonnie Gangelhoff


Tell me about your new studio.

The studio is a gift to myself and my wife because she works with me. We wanted to have an environment that is conducive to the process of creating art. It’s a park-like setting with lots of boulders and pine trees. My other studio was in an industrial building and it was big, dirty, and noisy with a lot going on. This is a big ranch house about five miles from downtown Prescott. In the new studio there’s a library and a gallery. There are also two work spaces—one for larger and one for smaller pieces.

Do you play music in the studio?

Rachmaninoff, Mozart, and Beethoven. Listening to music is like being surrounded by drama. Listening to someone like Rachmaninoff is like drinking a couple of cups of coffee. The music may invoke and change the mood of the piece I’m working on at that time.

What part do models play in your works?

I am interested in using authentic-looking models. I go through a network of people I know to find them. Or if I find a person who looks right, I ask them to model. I once found an Apache girl working in a Subway sandwich shop, and she was stunning. But other times, like now, I am using a model not for his face but just for gestures for charcoal sketches. I’m dressing him in a replica of the outfit that Mato-tope, chief of the Mandan tribe, wore in a Karl Bodmer painting in 1832. I had a man who specializes in costumes duplicate it with human hair and quillwork.

What attracts you to western art?

I’m a mythology buff—American mythology. I feel the point of art is to tell a story through metaphor. If I was in Europe, I might use Arthurian legends. But I live in America, so I go to American history. And sometimes it’s easier to tell a story outside your culture. I find Native American culture has so many stories that lend themselves to be told visually and in ways people understand.


What artists influence your work?

Howard Terpning. We have a lot in common. We are both Anglos doing Native American subjects. The Cowboy Artists of America also influence me. It’s an honor to belong to such a great group. I gravitate to people that are doing something new and original. There are a lot of good craftsmen out there, but I am more inspired by people who have something new to say.

What do you like to do when you are not working in your studio?

I like to travel. I’m interested in historical sites.

When friends come to visit, where do you like to take them in Prescott?

The downtown area is a time capsule. It’s unchanged since 1900. I like to take them to the Sharlot Hall Museum and the Phippen Museum.

Do you have any shows coming up?

I have a couple of pieces at the C.M. Russell Art Auction in Great Falls, MT, this month. I’m also in the Prix de West show in June at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, OK.

Featured in “My Studio” March 2008