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Anne Coes 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. Coes new husband, Sid Greist, is another smitten story altogether. This
observations on native-
arizona artist anne Coe
in her happiest habitats:
a home studio wedged
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. polaCheCkANNEthropologytook the Chevy to the levy;
faCing page: Coe with one of
many portraits friends have
painted through the years
is a houseand a womanwith stories, and as he gazes at rafters packed with tales he has yet to learn, says, Its 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 Horwitchs 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.
Coes 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. Hed lost his first wife to breast cancer, and wasnt 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
smart, she recallsHarvard, Penn, the Air Force and Motorolaand he had a Corvette!
Sids proposal was, I have really good insurance. Leave it to Coe to have a fairytale with a punchline. That wasnt 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 thats done on a handshake, Coe remarks. At Larsen Gallery in Scottsdale, where she has long enjoyed a fond and paperless relation-
ship 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.
Its 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 Disneys Hyperion Books published 15 years ago, Here is the Southwestern Desert, is being re-released.
Coe reads author Madeleine Dunphys 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 illustrationroadrunner, hawk, bobcat and so on, now in limited-edition printsand air-frames it Vanna-White-style when the time is right.
The live birds and their handlers are Coes honored guests from Liberty Wildlife, brought in both as crowd-pleasers and as a representation of Coes 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 thats 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, whos courageously bounc-ing 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 Coes collection.
The funnier material is given to her animal charac-ters, their situations, their classical allusions or the titles theyre christened with, and for that, we may have Coes masters of fine art education to thank.
mona arizonain a
painting by bill schenck
(Flamingo road, 1982);
bottom: bi polar (2006)
is an example oF coes
penchant For parodying
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apache junction, 2010:
coe, greist, afternoon
coffee, and oh, so many
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The full title of the seemingly innocent Mood Swingsa chimpanzee in a pink dress lolling on a swingis Mood Swings after Fragonard; it references Jean-Honor Fragonards 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 ones a livening-up of Jan Davidsz. de Heems 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, Lets go to dinnerIm 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 afternoons affair.
Several works star a cowgirl protagonist not far-removed-enough to be an alter ego.
Coe drives a boxy gray Honda Element ideal for stacking canvases and trucking them into townthats 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 theyre working well. Shes teaching the last of her art classes at Central Arizona College, and leav-ing 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 ridethis time in the actual wilderness.