After 30 years in SETX, artist returns to spirit of homeland in BAL exhibition
Andy Coughlan is a fixture in the Southeast Texas arts landscape. In September, he will bring a slice of the English landscape to Beaumont, accompanied by his signature female abstracts.
A native of England, and a long-time resident of Southeast Texas, Coughlan’s paintings earned “Best in Show” in the 2013 Beaumont Art League’s Membership Show. As a result, he will present “Boadicea in Albion,” an exhibition of recent paintings, Sept. 13-26. The exhibition, which features “The South Downs Installation,” will open with a reception, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., Sept. 13.
Coughlan’s traditional female forms, will fill the Brown Gallery. In the Scurlock gallery, Coughlan will feature an installation representing the English landscape in which he grew up.
The title of the show incorporates elements of his native land.
“I was thinking about these female forms, and I wanted the paintings to represent some sort of heroic, strong female figures,” he said. “So I thought about Boadicea, who was, in about 60-61 AD, a warrior queen who drove the Romans out of Britain at the battle of Londinium, which is now London.
“I really like the idea of having the paintings being named for these strong women. Boadicea is a very English, legendary figure. Of course, like all legends, there is probably more myth than fact, but who wants to live their life surrounded just by facts? The legend, the myth is great.”
The paintings in that part of the exhibition will all be named for English mythological, literary or historical women.
The “Albion” of the title is one of the oldest-known names given to England.
Coughlan plans to convert the Scurlock gallery into an installation — a room that will serve as a single piece. Seven of Coughlan’s paintings will form a 360-degree abstract landscape.
“So it is ‘Boadicea in Albion,’ because the landscape is Albion, the England where I grew up,” he said. “I am revisiting where I am from — the South Downs of England, complete with rolling green hills,” he said. “The idea is that you will be able to walk into the gallery and be completely surrounded by this experience of being on the south coast of England.”
Coughlan gets animated as he talks about the concept, which will include a soundscape.
“You will walk in through the door, and the entire room will be one single artwork,” he said. “You can rotate your way around. And as you walk in, the winds will be blowing, and you will be able to hear the sound of the place.”
Coughlan said he was inspired by an Inuit/Eskimo art exhibition at Houston’s Menil Collection a couple of years ago. He recalled that moment of inspiration, remembering that the exhibition was all white and featured very low sounds of the arctic wind.
“I think the winds I am going to have are going to be a little louder,” he said. “We are also going to get some waves from the English Channel. We will see — I am still working on it.”
Coughlan said the landscapes are not trying to be literal representations.
“They are supposed to be a feel for what it is like to be standing on these rolling hills with the wind blowing, and so that is what I am trying to do,” he said. “I think it is almost a nostalgic sort of thing.”
Indeed, nostalgia seems to be the primary reason why Coughlan, who has lived in Southeast Texas for 30 years, is bringing his memories of England into his art and to Beaumont.
“I have been toying with the idea of an installation for a long time,” he said. “I am actually going to even expand on it. My nephew Daniel, who lives in England, is actually recording the winds and the birds — the blow from the English channel over the South Downs — so when you walk in the room, not only will you get the paintings, but you’ll also have the sounds that come from being on the hills.”
The BAL show offered the perfect opportunity — and space — for Coughlan to try such a big project.
“The Scurlock gallery has peg boards on the walls — and I never really liked the peg boards,” he said. “So I had this idea of what I could do that will cover them — I am going to have paintings cover them up.
“That’s why there are seven panels, because the walls are comprised of seven peg-boards. Each of these paintings will be something like eight- to ten-feet tall. The smallest painting will be eight to ten feet by twelve feet, the largest will be ten feet by thirty-five feet — very large and kind of intimidating. I do not remember something like this being done locally.
“I will be using stains and, actually, I will be painting with mops. I’m throwing away the brushes on this one. I will use full-size mops and if anybody comes and sees me do it, it probably will be almost like choreography, really.”
While Coughlan takes his art seriously, he has not lost his British sense of humor in his years “in the Colonies,” as he puts it. He talks about his show title as a “catchy title” that also reflects his love of soccer. His home-town soccer team is Brighton and Hove Albion.
“It is kind of a little humorous, and a little play on that, “ he said.
Coughlan retains his sense of Englishness, although he has actually lived more of his life in Southeast Texas than in England.
“The other day I realized I have spent more years living here than I have there,” he said. “I guess that makes me more Texan than English — I love it here, so I claim both.”
As well as presenting multiple art exhibitions, Coughlan also acts, directs and writes plays. He is editor of ISSUE arts magazine, and is the Sunday editorial cartoonist for the Beaumont Enterprise.
By day, he is an award-winning journalist, and the director of the University Press student newspaper at Lamar University, where he also teaches.
Southeast Texans who want to be informed about what is going on in the region should just follow him in Facebook, or read his blog. If there is a play, an art exhibition, a concert, a poetry reading, or any other event promoting the arts, one can be certain of his presence and support.
“There is a great arts community in Beaumont, of all kinds — music, theater, etc. — and I try to involve myself in all of it,” he said. “I get fed up with people who call it ‘Boremont.’ There is more than enough to do here. In fact, I could do with there being a little less — it gets tiring sometimes.”
Coughlan also said that there are plenty of opportunities for people to exhibit their own work in the area.
“In October, there will be the Art League’s membership show which is open to anyone who wants to be a member,” he said. “The Art Studio, where I have my work space, also has opportunities for people to exhibit. People just need to have an idea, execute the idea, and go put it out there.”
Coughlan definitely puts his ideas “out there.”
While he is hard at work on his abstract females, his enthusiasm turns up another notch when he talks about the landscapes.
“When you see the white cliffs on the top of the Downs and how they roll — if you are going all along the south coast of England, it just rolls and rolls and rolls — because it is sparse, there is not a lot of trees. And that is where I grew up.”
The artist said this is a sort of travel show.
“It is, you know, for people who haven’t traveled to England,” he said. “Maybe it’ll give a sense, more of an experience, of what is like to be on the south coast of England.”
The exhibition will bring a little piece of England to Southeast Texas, in the same way another part of England came three decades ago to add to the Southeast Texas arts landscape.
The Beaumont Art League is located at 2675 Gulf St. in Beaumont.
Story by Catalina Castillón