Full Metal Abstract

In a time when so much is fleeting and fragile, Virginia T. Coleman's new show Sensibility finds strength in the tangible.

"Deciphering the Truth" by Virginia T. Coleman, 2020

Virginia T. Coleman is an artist, professional welder, and business owner. By blending these roles, she has created a unique business model. Whether intended for the gallery or as a functional element of the built environment, no custom metal creation is the same, and each is easily recognizable as a Virginia T. Coleman piece.

At the age of twenty-eight, well into her training as a fine art painter and having never even considered putting two pieces of metal together, Virginia's MFA director decided that she should pursue sculpture, and more specifically, metal sculpture. Over a decade later, after completing welding school and working with multiple welding companies, Virginia started her own company, Virginia T. Coleman Custom Designs LLC. Her creative designs bring one-of-a-kind art pieces into the home in the form of custom railings, furniture, fireplaces, and event plant holders.

Virginia's new show, Sensibility, culminates in over a decade of welding experience, six years as a member of NEXT Gallery, and a year of observing the world's fragility. The metal wall hangings and sculptures create an opportunity for reflection and vulnerability, while the materiality of steel gives us strength in its permanence.

Virginia shared her story in an interview.

You began your artistic career as a painter. How has painting influenced your welding?

I began my art career as a painter. It was my first Master's. My professional career as a metal artist has blossomed, but I still use the different theories on painting in my everyday work. Painting is about composition, color, technique, layering of stroke, hand-eye control, self-discipline, and being able to convey a story. Learning the fundamentals of painting gave me even more courage as I branched away from the classical concept of painting. I now use steel as my canvas manipulating the myriad of techniques that can be fused upon steel to create my narrative. Recently, I have really delved into the layering of patinas similar to the way I layer oil paints upon my canvases. So painting is never far from me, it is my foundation. Steel traditionally invokes characteristics of strength and stability. How does this material contrast with the fragility of this year for you?

Steel conveys a sense of strength and structure, as it is what the modern world is built from. Steel and its other alloys are literally everywhere one looks, from the soda can to the Empire State Building, but steel is incredibly fragile. Its greatest beauty and mystery is in its ability to go from molten lava to a hardened object that built the world we know. Steel's greatest enemy is also its greatest asset, which is heat. With heat one can, weld, bend, break, create, and destroy with ease. This year has been fought with struggles and obstacles that we have all felt across the globe. We have all risen and fallen at some point with the great mysteries of the future and the world. Like steel, one can appear strong but brave when really our own fragility lies just underneath the surface. Your wall hangings convey a sense of openness, space, and the unknown. What experience do you hope to provide to viewers?

I wanted the larger wall pieces to be an experience, to get lost in the steel and to take more time to immerse oneself in the works. So often the subtle nuances of steel can be lost upon people as it is looked at as functional objects. By creating them as larger pieces I also can bring the curiosity of the material to the forefront, how it is this hung, how is it welded, how was this patina finish achieved, and so forth. Engage the viewer more in the master of steel and the world.

"Tokyo Subway" by Viginia T. Coleman, 2020

Other pieces such as Tokyo Subway allude to small crowded spaces. How has your pre-COVID trip to Japan influenced your work?

I was traveling in Japan with my fiancée in December/January of 2020 right before COVID-19 really broke out across the globe. It was already lingering in China and I was aware of its potential threat but what lay ahead I wasn’t prepared for. When we were traveling we were astutely aware of Japan's heightened sense of germ spreading. All the subways were packed but everyone was wearing a mask. As westerners, we were a little confused why everyone seemed to be wearing one. But to be the densely of a populated country they have to take public health very seriously as they live so closely together. Japan to us was one of the cleanest, most health-conscious places we had traveled to. I wanted to convey that tight space and see if the viewer would sense it and maybe have apprehensions now as so much changed in a few months' time.

You are a professional welder. How does the built environment impact our everyday experience of the world?

I do run my own custom fabrication business and work a lot with architects and designers. I think we are all thriving to create a visually exciting environment for people's lives to unfold in and it is exciting to showcase steel in different formats and functions. Metal has the ability to transform a slightly mundane space into something exotic, modern, and different. Its potential is endless and I have only just scratched the surface. What has been the greatest challenge and reward of starting your own custom metal design company?

The greatest challenge in starting my own business has been the juggling of all the “hats” I am supposed to wear. From consultation to the design, fabrication and install - it is a one-woman show. I have hired help with certain aspects of running a business and eased some of the workload. It has been a challenge as many projects are new to me so there have been some learning curves, but I love a good challenge and love welding. The other challenge I have found is making time to create my own artwork. But every year I do one solo show and it's then that I see how all my work throughout the year has shifted my artwork.

Sensibility closes on October 25.

Where: NEXT Gallery, 6851 W. Colfax Ave, Unit B, Lakewood CO (In Pasternack’s Art Hub)

When: Fri 6 - 10 PM, Sat & Sun 12 - 5 PM

Safety Info: Patrons are expected to wear masks, maintain 6 ft. distances, and use provided hand sanitizer.

Check out Virginia's website at virginiatcoleman.com and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Photo from "Sensibility," the new show by Virginia T. Coleman at NEXT Gallery.

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