observations on nativeArizona artist Anne Coe in her happiest habitats: a home studio wedged between civilization and the Superstition Mountains; the Scottsdale gallery that represents her; and out in the wild, with oversized sunglasses, a pair of walking sticks, and new mate, Sid BY LISA K. POLACHECK
“Took the chevy to the levy”; facing page: coe with one of many portraits friends have painted through the years
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Anne Coe’s hair is a shocking shade of red that, even as a painter, she cannot name. She wears a lab coat as a smock, clipped with an Area 51 security badge (a fake, from the Space Age Lodge in Gila Bend, Ariz.) and, in winter, a pair of pink Crocs with thick socks. At various times of day, she buzzes from a combination of soda, coffee and phone conversations with friends, shuffles awake from her regular midday nap, or collapses sideways in a chair to give the stink-eye to a stubborn work in progress. She lives in Apache Junction, 30 miles east of Scottsdale and one block shy of dirt roads, with the Superstition Mountains almost fencing her backyard. Her low-slung ranch was among the first five homes built in the neighborhood, completed in 1989 following blueprints she traded a painting for. Exposed-log ceilings are laden with baskets; wall niches cradle collections of authentic Hopi kachinas and plastic Virgin Marys. Indirect skylights allow natural light to pour in without glare, while a wall of portraits other artists have made of the eternal redhead keep watch over it all. Resident cat Ishkabibble is unimpressed by all but an errant rubber eraser on the floor. Coe’s new husband, Sid Greist, is another smitten story altogether. This
©anne coe 2009/larsen gallery. facing page: ©chris loomis
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smart, she recalls—Harvard, Penn, the Air Force and Motorola—and he had a Corvette! “Sid’s proposal was, ‘I have really good insurance.’” Leave it to Coe to have a fairytale with a punchline. That wasn’t it. “After I said yes, he got rid of the Corvette,” she deadpans, then roars and slaps her knee.
“Art is one of the last businesses that’s done on a handshake,” Coe remarks. At Larsen Gallery in Scottsdale, where she has long enjoyed a fond and paperless relationship with owners Polly and Scott Larsen, the artist is unruffled by sharing the limelight with a bunch of birds. In fact, they were her idea. It’s a non-traditional opening at the non-traditional time of Saturday afternoon, and more than half of the audience is children. A book Coe illustrated and Disney’s Hyperion Books published 15 years ago, “Here is the Southwestern Desert,” is being re-released. Coe reads author Madeleine Dunphy’s entire story aloud to the kids, who quickly learn the chorus and join in as the pages are turned. The Larsens’ daughter Rachel, wearing shoes with rollers in the heels, glides to each framed illustration—roadrunner, hawk, bobcat and so on, now in limited-edition prints—and air-frames it Vanna-White-style when the time is right. The live birds and their handlers are Coe’s honored guests from Liberty Wildlife, brought in both as crowdpleasers and as a representation of Coe’s passions beyond art, humor and human health. She hopes to spend more time volunteering with the Scottsdale animal rescue-and-rehab effort soon. Reality-based commissions and interspecies kindness aside, the Larsen exhibit also showcases some barely dry, large-scale Coe canvases in brilliant palettes and fantastic situations. Most tend to fall into one of two categories: “Mona Arizona,” starring a pop-Western cowgirl protagonist that’s not far-removed-enough to be an alter ego, and unlikely animal portraits in classical settings or poses, which the artist says are “based on those really pompous Dutch paintings.” It must be Mona, then, who’s courageously bouncing atop a horse in “At the End of Her Rope,” or coolly lassoing a fish from a convertible in “Took the Chevy to the Levy.” This is the fearless, just-plain-fun part of Coe’s collection. The funnier material is given to her animal characters, their situations, their classical allusions or the titles they’re christened with, and for that, we may have Coe’s master’s of fine art education to thank.
from top: ©bill schenck/larsen gallery; ©anne coe/larsen gallery
coe—looking rather mona Arizona—in a painting by bill schenck (“Flamingo road,” 1982); bottom: “bi polar” (2006) is an example of coe’s penchant for parodying classical poses.
is a house—and a woman—with stories, and as he gazes at rafters packed with tales he has yet to learn, says, “It’s the stories that make a relationship.” In the ’80s, Coe and boyfriend Bill Schenck, a pop/ pulp Western artist who now lives outside Santa Fe, used to dress up, borrow Scottsdale gallery owner Elaine Horwitch’s Rolls-Royce, and drive out to desolate Fort McDowell to stage pictures Schenck would later use as the basis for paintings. “Flamingo Road,” for instance, depicts the pair perched on the front bumper playing cards: he with a can of Coors, she with champagne in stemware. Coe’s first husband, Robert “Bronco” Horvath, was an artist too, an independent furniture maker, and from their Apache Junction home, would often help Coe with shipping her paintings. He passed away in 2000 from leukemia, and medical costs for the self-employed couple were massive. A decade later, while dealing with and blogging about her own diagnosis with breast cancer, Coe met Greist online, on Match.com. He’d lost his first wife to breast cancer, and wasn’t scared away by anything Coe could say or write. When she was really sick, he came over and cleaned out her refrigerator. She thought he was very
Several works star a cowgirl protagonist not far-removed-enough to be an alter ego. The full title of the seemingly innocent “Mood Swings”—a chimpanzee in a pink dress lolling on a swing—is “Mood Swings after Fragonard”; it references Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s “The Swing” (1766), which was considered scandalous in its day. Another chimp upsets a still-life banquet in her “Eating Disorders after de Heem”; this one’s a liveningup of Jan Davidsz. de Heem’s lavish but dreary “A Table of Desserts” (1640), yet the ripples and creases of the original tablecloth are obediently replicated. Star of the work “Bi Polar”: a pretty polar bear in a classic nude pose. Title of three animals around a table: “The Time Has Come the Walrus Said.” As the show winds down, Coe drawls dramatically, “Let’s go to dinner—I’m starving,” and she and Greist head to a tiny French restaurant five minutes from the gallery. They order whiskeys simultaneously, and she confesses relief that anyone showed up at the afternoon’s affair.
Coe drives a boxy gray Honda Element ideal for stacking canvases and trucking them “into town”—that’s what the Phoenix area is called by people who live with one foot in the Tonto National Forest and the other in the Superstition Wilderness. The blue Toyota FJ Cruiser Greist bought post-Corvette is in the shop getting lifted. Soon, the newlyweds hope pack it to the gills and take it to some of the most remote wilderness hiking Coe knows about by being a fourth-generation Arizonan, a lifelong hiker, and the founder of the Superstition Area Land Trust (SALT). She has a clean bill of health. Each has one “new” knee, and they’re working well. She’s teaching the last of her art classes at Central Arizona College, and leaving the heavy lifting of SALT to younger members. He retired from Motorola in ’97. With a floppy hat and a pair of hiking poles apiece, they prepare for their next wild ride—this time in the actual wilderness.
apache junction, 2010: coe, greist, afternoon coffee, and oh, so many conversation pieces
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Where Guestbook article about Anne Coe