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Peter Coes' Neighborhood: A Thirty-Year Retrospective


The Cahoon Museum of American Art will present Peter Coes' Neighborhood: A Thirty-Year Retrospective from March 12 through April 20, 2002. The exhibition will feature some 60 paintings by Peter Coes, 55, whose works have strongly reflected his Cape Cod environment since he moved from central Massachusetts to Provincetown in 1980. He has lived in Cummaquid since 1999. Works from all stages of his career will be represented.

Peter Coes' Neighborhood will showcase the talents of an artist whose skill has developed within the confines of a slowly evolving iconography that is all his own, but which strikes a chord with his many admirers. Coes is known for his paintings of trees, boats, bicycles, cats and, especially, vintage Cape Cod houses. "They're really magical to me," he has said. "As soon as you have a house, you have people who live there, and they all have their stories." At various times over the years, Coes has expanded his visual vocabulary to include old-fashioned diners, herons, and doll houses and other toys. If there are people in his pictures, they're almost inevitably girls on the brink of womanhood.

While Coes paints the commonplace, his paintings are usually touched by a sense of enigma. A curtain blowing through an open window, a bicycle left leaning against a tree or a silk scarf caught on a hedge suggest an unseen presence. And while Coes' paintings never plumb the darker side of life, their mood is often poignant, with the theme of loss expressed in anything from falling autumn leaves to summer friends saying goodbye. (left: September Goodbye, 1994, acrylic on panel, 27 x 24 inches, Collection of Walter and Helaine Perry)

After majoring in sculpture at the University of Hartford, Coes lived in the woods in Granby in a cabin, where there wasn't enough room to make sculptures. Perhaps affected by the forest around him, Coes painted dark, mysterious, symbolic scenes of young women running and hiding. Once he moved to Provincetown, however, his palette quickly lightened and he began to paint his real surroundings. He also developed his appealingly linear style, marked by excellent draftsmanship and design and a primitive artist's attention to repetitive details. For most of his career, Coes has individually painted every leaf on a tree, every blade of grass, every shingle on a house. Only in his newest works has he sometimes begun seeing and painting the world in broader areas of color.

Another recent development is Coes' return to sculpture. Using carvings and constructions of wood that he paints in the same muted colors as his paintings, he creates three-dimensional houses, figures, trees and other objects that look like they've suddenly emerged from his two-dimensional world.

An exhibition catalogue featuring images of 17 works by Coes has been published in conjunction with the "Peter Coes' Neighborhood" exhibition. It will be available in the museum's Mermaids Cove gift shop.

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