By Judith Kahn
The westside neighborhoods have a lot of brightly colored homes, each one different from the house next door. Homes painted bright pink, rich purple or green-screen green catch the eye, especially among those painted with more neutral shades of brown and beige. The real treats for the eyes are the homes with painted murals. Like the beauty on 36th Avenue and Irving Street.
It is an unexpected delight to see a huge bison painted on the front of the home. The bison is standing next to a couple of pink flamingos and a couple of smaller birds. Behind them is a bullseye. It is hard not to look at and admire the creativity – it is the work of Joshua Coffy
Coffy is a self-taught local artist. While having grown up in many locations, he has made his home in San Francisco since 2003. Often, his work is a playful and whimsical take on animals and how we humans relate to them. His inspiration springs initially from his love for animals, but nature itself, along with scientific illustrations, contribute to his creative process.
He employs mixed media, multiple layers of texture paper patterns, maps, newspaper articles and acrylic paint.
“I paint animals in whimsical situations, often to tell a story or represent concepts that I feel are important and would be almost too directed if I used human subjects,” Coffy said. “We can all assign ourselves to various animals, and so I hope people can see themselves in my work.”
Coffy grew up in several locales, including Ohio, New Mexico, Florida and now, California. His father was a coal miner, steel mill worker and oil rig roughneck, all before his son was 10, His mother ran their small family farm in Ohio. Concerned that his boys should not feel relegated to hard-labor jobs, Coffy’s father decided to get a computer science degree. Upon completion, the family moved from Ohio to New Mexico, and then to Florida, where his father worked at the space center.
“In my 20s, I moved to California with him for a contract gig,” Coffy said. “He went home, and I ended up staying here.”
Coffy’s interest in art began when he was “around 13, through comic book and skateboard art.” But then, while living in New Mexico, a school field trip to a Santa Fe museum introduced him to Georgia O’Keefe’s work. That was the moment he knew he wanted to make art.
“Seeing her work and how she interpreted the southwest made it seem not as cliché as some of the local art,” he said. “I wanted a piece of that.”
“There are so many absolutely amazing artists,” Coffy said, and he is fascinated by the art found on the internet.
“I’m into lots of different art. I think what I find most fascinating is watching artists and their process. I really enjoy seeing people so completely surrounded by their craft. Their dedication really pushes me.”
Coffy feels it is important for the public to engage with their local artists and support them.
“I encourage everyone to go meet artists and buy their work,” he said. “When you do this, the whole city is a little more diverse than it was before you met them.”
Buying locally produced art, even if it is inexpensive, helps the artist to thrive and makes the purchaser’s home more vibrant. For the last few years, Joshua has been volunteering for ArtSpan, a local arts nonprofit that works to support workshops, exhibition opportunities, affordable studio space and other valuable resources for artists in the City. ArtSpan’s Open Studio each year is a great venue for viewing their work and meeting the artist.
Coffy said his creative process is inspired by “the challenge to always try to get better. I am always trying to get better at my craft. Honing my skills and leveling up never gets old for me. It is thrilling to always be pushing myself to make better and more art.”
Currently, Coffy is putting together a series that references family members that came before him and have passed on.
“They have also passed on their wisdom and ideals that formed my own ideas about the world,” he said.
Now, as a parent, he is passing these life lessons on to his son.
“The series will be called ‘Lineage’ and will be based on line drawings in my art.”
He said he hopes to release it on his website, as well as show it in his open studio, on Nov. 5 and 6.
When not actively making art, Coffy is a hiker, bird watcher and player of the ukulele, having even recorded an album of mostly original ukulele music.
He enjoys living in San Francisco with his main supporter, his wife, and his 6-year-old son. Although he still likes it here, he is acutely aware of the obstacles for painters and other creatives and he feels the City is becoming less vibrant than when he moved here in 2003. He says elected officials complain that we are not “as artsy as we’d like San Francisco to be, but so many of our artists, musicians, and small diverse businesses have been priced out and replaced” by upscale eateries and bars.
“There are hundreds still fighting to be here,” Coffy said. “That resilience is quite inspiring.”
The artist has seen that resilience firsthand during the past few years in his volunteer work for ArtSpan.
Coffy has produced community-based murals for events like Noise Pop’s 20th Street Block Party, the SF Marathon and the Treasure Island Music Festival. His work is shown at STUDIO Gallery (studiogallerysf.com), Modern Eden Gallery (moderneden.com), and Secession Art and Design (secessionsf.com). Outside of the Bay Area, his work has shown in Reno, Los Angeles, New York, and Portugal.
For more information and to see examples of his work, go to undersong.com.