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The Scarlet & Black

Rocking steady in Smith Gallery


Keli Vitaioli

Coats utilizes intense color and how people realate to interior spaces.
Coats utilizes intense color and how people realate to interior spaces.Photo by Rae Kuhlman

The Smith Gallery exhibition “Rock Steady” acts as a debut for Professor Mary Coats, Art. New to the College this year, Coats teaches Drawing and Introduction to the Studio.

“The most exciting parts about this show are being able to see all this recent work of mine together in one place, and also being to introduce myself and my work to the Grinnell community,” wrote Coats in an email to The S&B.

This exhibit, her fourth solo show, gives reference to Coats’s musical inspiration in her titles such as, “Summer Lovin’,” Dog Days” and “Goon Squad.”

Smith Gallery - Rae Kuhlman
Photo by Rae Kuhlman

“The phrase ‘Rock Steady’ contains a lot of various musical references, and music has always been a big influence on my work,” Coats wrote. “So it touches on the importance of music, but also is a play on the repetition occurring in my work. On a humorous note, it’s also the name of a character from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.”

Coats’s contemporary work emphasizes simple shapes. She evokes a sense of underlying mystery in the minimalism.

“During grad school I became very interested in interior spaces and how we relate to those spaces. … I believe the forms I use can reference so many different things I enjoy hearing all the various reactions from viewers,” Coats wrote. “That is the thing about them that holds so much fascination for me, their ability to change meaning from moment to moment and painting to painting.”

Coats’s use of intense color is also vital to the interpretation of her work. The simple shapes juxtaposed with bold color resonates with the viewer on another level.

“Color is a very important aspect of my work as well. I’m always searching for color interactions that walk the line between being something you really want to look at and something that’s almost hard to look at,” Coats wrote. “I’m after those interactions where the colors really start to vibrate.”

Beyond creating and teaching art, Coats strives to support women in her field. Her work can often be found on Twitter following the hashtag #womenartists.

“It is very important to me to represent women artists because the art world was and still is very male dominated,” Coats wrote. “I think it is important for women artists and curators to connect and empower each other, that way one of these days the percentage of men vs. women showing in major galleries and art museums won’t be so disproportionate.”

Beginning her art career at a young age, Coats pushed away art in high school as she lacked confidence in pursuing it professionally.

Smith Gallery - Rae Kuhlman
Photo by Rae Kuhlman

“I knew I was interested in teaching as I began college at UW-Madison, but was pursuing a very different major [German],” Coats wrote. “It became clear pretty quickly that I wasn’t going to be happy or fulfilled if I didn’t pursue art, so in my first semester I switched my major to Art and went for it.”

Coats received her degree in painting from University of Wisconsin-Madison and her Masters of Arts and Master of Fine Arts from the University of Iowa. She current hopes include continuing to show her work more widely and regularly and teaching art.

Guests can view “Rock Steady” in the Smith Gallery until Friday, Sept. 4.

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