Focus on a big inspiration – Petah Coyne

by Chantal

Petah Coyne © Untitled #1336 (Scalapino Nu Shu) 2009-10. Photograph: Elisabeth Bernstein

Petah Coyne is a contemporary American sculptor and photographer who lives and works in New York. I think I she is the artist who I feel the closest affinity with at the moment in terms of her choice of materials, aesthetic of beauty and decadence, and the way in which she uses her incredible sculptures to evoke intensely personal associations.

According to the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art,

“Coyne belongs to a generation of sculptors—many of them women—who came of age in the late 1980s and forever changed the muscular practice of sculpture with their new interest in nature and a penchant for painstaking craftsmanship, domestic references and psychological metaphor.”

Petah Coyne © Untitled #919 (Ariyoshi) 1997-98. Photograph: Wit McKay

Petah Coyne © Untitled #720 (Eguchi's Ghost) 1992/2007. Photograph: Wit McKay

When I look at her sculptural installations I can feel the joy in the materials used. They are exaggerated, and elevated to something epic. When looking at Untitled #919 (Ariyoshi) 1997-98, I think about how I have been unexplainably drawn to collecting the horse hair I find caught on barbed wire in the field I walk. I wonder what Petah Coyne’s thoughts have been in using this material – was it a conceptual choice, an emotional association or simply an interest in exploring the material itself on an exaggerated scale? I’ve never seen a list of materials used by an artist that sounds so familiar in terms of the vocabulary I feel I am slowly establishing myself. Artificial flowers, wax, horse hair, black sand, feathers, taxidermy, and wire are just some of the materials she weaves together in her creations.

Petah Coyne © Untitled #1180 (Beatrice) 2003-08. Photograph: Wit McKay

Petah Coyne © Untitled #1176 (Elisabeth, Elizabeth) detail 2007-10. Photograph: Elisabeth Bernstein

I find her an incredible inspiration and seeing her work excites me into thinking about the greater possibilities of my own work. Her work makes me realise the limits I put on my pieces and the constraints I self impose. She makes me want to think and dream bigger.

Petah Coyne © Untitled Installation Artist's studio, 1996. Photograph: D. James Dee

Petah Coyne © Untitled #695 (Ghost/First Communion) 1991. Photograph: Wit McKay

Petah Coyne © Untitled #1093 (Buddha Boy) 2001-03. Photograph: Jean Vong

Below are a couple of short video clips that show Petah Coyne’s work. The first shows Coyne speaking about her magical apple and peacock work. The second is a walkthrough a visitor has filmed at one of her exhibitions.

Here are a few quotes from Coyne that I particularly enjoyed from an interview she gave with Lynne Tillman:

“I almost always work intuitively. My mother trained me to trust my instincts. As I get older, I trust them more” from Interview with Lynne Tillman

“I think the only way for an artist to know or understand anything is to make work almost from a blind spot, and what you produce speaks to you; and as you get older, you know it more clearly.” from Interview with Lynne Tillman

“When I see (my works) in museums, and I’m not allowed to touch them anymore, I think they recognize me, I think they’re happy to see me. I’m certainly happy to see them. And I do think of them as an extension of myself, it’s like pulling off my skin. But as invalids, I also don’t want them to breathe without me, which is really getting into the psychosis of it.” from Interview with Lynne Tillman

“I differ from a lot of other sculptors, I do not separate the piece from the space. It is one and the same to me. Sculpture is about that space. I have to place my work. Where it’s placed is imperative to everything, and the scale and whole space are involved. I die when these little pieces are hung in big museums. They aren’t meant to be.”  from Interview with Lynne Tillman

To view more about Petah Coyne and her exceptional work visit her website:

Petah Coyne © Untitled #1290 (The Wax Wall) detail 2008. Photograph: Wit McKay

Special thanks to Petah Coyne for kindly giving her permission for these images to be included in this blog post.