2019-01-09 / Features

Local-Express

Eileen Coyne


Photo by Kambri Crews / Courtesy of Eileen Coyne Photo by Kambri Crews / Courtesy of Eileen Coyne Eileen Coyne’s paintings will be featured in a new installation at QED (27-16 23rd Avenue, Astoria), with an opening celebration there on Tuesday, January 15 from 6-8 pm. Coyne’s work will remain on view at QED and for sale through June 2019. RSVPs for the opening are encouraged. For more information, visit www.qedastoria.com/products/eileen-coyne-gallery-opening-reception.

Coyne graduated from Point Park University with a BA in dance. She studied painting at The Bridgeview School of Fine Arts with Polina Osnachuk and Boris Kulikov. She is a member of Long Island City Artists (LIC-A) and was an artist in residence at their Plaxall Gallery home in 2018. Her work has been featured in Huffington Post and resides in many private collections. She was recently featured in Queens Tribune’s cover story, Artists On The Rise. She lives and works in Long Island City.

About her work Coyne says, “As a painter, I am most interested in capturing the emotional complexity of humanity. Art has been a therapeutic tool for me since childhood. Growing up in an Irish working class family in a slowly deteriorating steel town in Western Pennsylvania, I was intrigued by the social and racial diversity in my community. While other art forms entered my life at various stages, most notably dance and theater, painting people remains my greatest form of expression. My time in the theater allowed me the opportunity to work in Europe, where I was introduced to the German expressionists. I am inspired by the work of Soutine, Schiele, Kokoschka, Beckmann, and Lucien Freud to name a few. I admire their unique ability, with heavy use of paint, to dissect the human psyche on their canvas. In this unprecedented political climate, I see my work evolving to reflect more poignantly my social and political beliefs.”

QG: What was it like growing up in a town that was shrinking? How did that contribute to your activism?

EC: It’s difficult answering this question without giving some historical context. Bruce Springsteen’s My Hometown and Billy Joel’s Allentown come to mind. All of my great grandparents emigrated from Ireland to Homestead to work in the steel industry. My grandfather was mayor of Home- stead, state senator, chair of the Democratic Party, and clerk of courts of Pittsburgh. He was a laborer and a musician and did not have the opportunity to go to college. It was his one expectation of his five children. My mother, a public school English teacher, married the eldest son of 10 children, a millwright, and sadly, an incurable alcoholic. She soon left him and returned to her parents with her four young children. My father remained in the town where he rapidly deteriorated in full view. My grandfather died prematurely, not long after, as did my mother’s eldest brother. It became clear to me later in life that my early childhood was very much an extended wake.

Homestead, a town of about 6,000 at that time, had a church on every corner. Decades earlier, Andrew Carnegie endowed each immigrant group with money to build their very own place of worship, with hopes that the community would remain segregated and not rise up in resistance. It did not work. The people unionized. There is also a bar on nearly every other corner.

I grew up with other kids whose families had been there for as long and had emigrated from various parts of eastern and western Europe, Syria, Greece, etc. I never thought of myself as an activist. We were a democratic family raised with a strong sense of community, tolerance and empathy. It was understood that you never crossed a picket line. While it didn’t feel like the town itself was shrinking per se, as the recession set in with massive layoffs and unemployment, it felt like what so many industrial American towns experienced with “deindustrialization” – again, an extended wake of sorts. A town in mourning for what used to be and what should have remained, had it not been for the corporate greed and self-interest, pushback on environmental regulation, total disregard for technological innovation and scapegoating the demise on the labor unions, labor costs and benefits, all leading to a general state of despair and mistrust. These emotions run deep today. The main street, once bustling with “mom & pop” businesses, slowly began boarding up their storefronts. Churches began downsizing. But there’s a spirit of strength in the steel valley that had always provided me with a sense of hope.

We find ourselves faced with so many of the same challenges today. And in this unprecedented political climate I have seen my work evolve to reflect my social beliefs. I guess I like to think of myself as a storyteller through my art. I have always been intrigued by the complexity of humanity. So I would say at times my work has absolutely been my activism. And while I try hard and sometimes succeed at finding the humor in the face of despair (especially with my dog paintings), I sometimes just can’t. Then I want the viewer to pause and contemplate the gravity of life, especially for the working class with the potential weakening of critical social programs like Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security to name a few.

QG: When did you leave Pennsylvania? Did you come straight to Queens? Was it a smooth transition?

EC: I left Pennsylvania a year after I graduated from college. I moved to the West Village and later moved to Washington Heights. It was a relatively smooth transition. It was a culture shock indeed, but I was ready to broaden my horizons and excited about the adventure. I moved to Long Island City eight years ago. I remember the first time I arrived at the Vernon-Jackson station in front of P.J. Leahy’s; it felt like I had come home. I felt a sense of familiarity in LIC. It reminded me in many ways of Pittsburgh – an industrial town on a river complete with gantries.

QG: How has being a member of LIC-Artists helped your art?

EC: Being a member of LIC-Artists has helped my art by providing me with numerous professional development opportunities from exhibiting to collaborating and providing me with a residency. The community of artists and their work is as diverse as the borough of Queens itself. I joined LICA after one of my early exhibitions in the Old Mittman Building, where I studied with Polina Osnachuk at The Bridgeview School Of Fine Arts.

QG: What are your favorite things about/to do in Queens?

EC: I love exploring neighborhoods by foot. I love the diversity of the people in Queens. I’m proud to live in one of the most diverse boroughs in the world. It makes the world feel so much smaller to me. I am intrigued by the big open sky and never, ever tire of the sunsets over Manhattan from Gantry Park.

QG: How long have you been exhibiting your paintings? When did you sell your first painting?

EC: I have been exhibiting for about seven years. I sold my first painting in 2012.

QG: What elements in art can reveal the psyche?

EC: Intention. Much like acting, one must be clear about intention when creating a composition. Ask yourself, what am I trying to convey? Color, texture, and tone can dramatically convey emotion.

—Annette Hanze Alberts

This column was originated in July, 2013 by Nicollette Barsamian.

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