Success Stories | John Coleman

By Bonnie Gangelhoff

In July 1998, when John Coleman first appeared in Southwest Art, the then 49-year-old sculptor had been a professional artist for only four years. Trained as an illustrator, the Southern California native supported his growing family as a real estate developer in Arizona, a career he stuck at, he says, “until two days after my youngest daughter got married. Suddenly, I had a sense of freedom that I had done everything I needed to do, and I declared myself an artist.” Coleman quickly “gained traction” in sculpture, which he studied at the Scottsdale Artists’ School under Lincoln Fox and Richard MacDonald. Soon his bronzes of American Indian subjects began receiving recognition from an ever-growing roster of galleries, museums, shows, and professional organizations, culminating in 2001 with his election to the Cowboy Artists of America. He just concluded a one-year term as CAA president in October. “That,” says Coleman, “was the ultimate compliment.”

Has your style or approach to your art changed since you first appeared in Southwest Art? When I first started, people commented that my pieces had really smooth finishes. Now, my finishes are more painterly—they have a certain looseness without sacrificing accuracy. That makes them more of an emotional interpretation of life.
What is your proudest accomplishment so far? Being brought into the Cowboy Artists of America meant the most, because it represents everything that my career has been about.
Would you have done anything differently in your career? Absolutely not. I value my mistakes as much as the things that have worked out for me, because you learn from your mistakes.
What advice do you give to artists just starting out in their careers? Seek out an artist you admire and ask if they would be your mentor.
What motto do you live by? Ask for the highest and best first, and don’t be afraid of rejections. Most people are afraid to interact with a world that’s sometimes brutal, and they take their dreams to their graves.
What artists have influenced you? George Carlson. His sculptures highlight design perhaps even more than the actual subjects, which are secondary to the mood and the feeling he puts into them.
What are you working on now? In March, I’m releasing the last two of my series of 10 figures that pay tribute to the historical paintings of Karl Bodmer and George Catlin.
What’s your next big goal? I’m really interested in painting, and I want my paintings to be as well received as my sculptures have been.

Legacy Gallery, Scottsdale, AZ, and Jackson, WY; McLarry Fine Art, Santa Fe, NM; Mark Sublette Medicine Man Gallery, Tucson, AZ; Borsini Burr Gallery, Half Moon Bay, CA; InSight Gallery, Fredericksburg, TX; The Plainsmen Gallery, Clearwater, FL;


Masters of the American West, Autry National Center of the American West, Los Angeles, CA, February 6-March 7, 2010.
One-man show, Legacy Gallery, Scottsdale, AZ, dates TBA.
Night of Artists, Briscoe Museum of Western Art, San Antonio, TX, March 25-26, 2010.
Restrospective with Carrie Ballantyne, Gilcrease Museum, Tulsa, OK, April 15-17, 2010.
Cowboy Artists Week, Scottsdale Artists’ School, Scottsdale, AZ, April 19-23, 2010.

First appearance in Southwest Art: Portfolio, July 1998
Awards won since then: My most significant awards came in October 2005 at the CAA show. I won the gold medal for sculpture, best of show, and the artists’ choice CAA Award. And then the Phoenix Art Museum bought my main piece. I got the whole enchilada.
Show participation since then: I applied to Prix de West for ten years before I got in. Next June will be number six for me.
Price change since then: I don’t pay attention to the price so much as to my goal to sell out an edition within a year. My recent sculpture titled 1876, a monumental piece in an edition of nine that won the gold medal for sculpture and the patron’s choice award at this year’s Prix de West, first sold for $42,000; the latest one sold for $54,000. Ten years ago they might have gone for about 30 percent less.

Featured in “Success Stories” in December 2009