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Art Maker: Mishael Coggeshall-Burr, painter/photographer

  • Mishael Coggeshall-Burr works with oil paint on canvas in his Montague home workspace, translating a New York City bicycle scene from a blurred photograph. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Mishael Coggeshall-Burr works with oil paint on canvas in his Montague home workspace, translating a New York City bicycle scene from a blurred photograph. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Mishael Coggeshall-Burr is shown with his oil painting "Beyond Blue Cobblestones" in his Montague home workspace. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Mishael Coggeshall-Burr of Montague uses blurred photographs such as these as the starting point for his abstract-realist oil paintings. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Mishael Coggeshall-Burr is shown with his oil painting "Nameless Sanctuary," left, and "Beyond Blue Cobblestones" in his Montague home workspace. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Mishael Coggeshall-Burr traces shapes found in a photograph, part of his process for eventually transferring the scene onto canvas with oil paint. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Mishael Coggeshall-Burr traces shapes in a photograph he made, part of his process for eventually transferring the scene onto canvas with oil paint. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Mishael Coggeshall-Burr of Montague uses blurred photographs such as these as the starting point for his abstract-realist oil paintings. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Mishael Coggeshall-Burr works with oil paint on canvas in his Montague home workspace, translating a New York City bicycle scene from a blurred photograph he made. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Mishael Coggeshall-Burr is shown with his oil paintings "Nameless Sanctuary," left, and "Beyond Blue Cobblestones" in his Montague home workspace. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • “Blossoms & Lights,” oil on canvas. Image courtesy of Mishael Coggeshall-Burr

  • “Hi Line,” oil on canvas. Image courtesy of Mishael Coggeshall-Burr.

  • “Soup Signs,” oil on canvas. Image courtesy of Mishael Coggeshall-Burr


Friday, March 02, 2018

Many painters use photographs as a reference for their work, but Mishael Coggeshall-Burr relies on a very specific type of photo: a blurred one. The Montague artist uses those images, usually of landscapes, as a basis for semi-abstract paintings that, as he puts it, “stand up as an abstraction as well as a representation, and have a ring of déjà vu about them.” 

“We live in a mostly blurry world,” adds Coggeshall-Burr, who studied oil painting at Middlebury College, the Glasgow School of Art, and the Art Students League in New York. “Our eyes only actually focus on a tenth of our field of vision at any one time. Our memories are blurred by our viewpoint, emotions and context. The landscapes I paint are in some way our genuine environment: the backgrounds to our lives, always present and often out of focus.”

Hampshire Life: Talk about the work you’re currently doing. What does it involve, and what are you trying to achieve?

Mishael Coggeshall-Burr: It starts with an “adventure,” exploring on foot with my camera. I poke around into back streets and alleyways, quiet roads and thickets, looking for slices of existence. Then I wait a few months, and out of a few hundred images I select a few prints with the right balance: inky blacks to near whites, flecks of tantalizing color, a dynamic composition. For me, an out-of-focus photograph is like a memory: specific but vague, at once recognizable but mysterious. 

I grew up as a hippie kid in the forest, surrounded on all sides by nature’s relentless creep. This visceral childhood understanding of environment I find myself recreating in my paintings: nature blending into the built environment, boundaries dissolving, the interconnectedness of all things.

H.L: What do you draw inspiration from? Do you ever have a “eureka!” moment?

M.C-B.: I get inspired traveling, around the block or around the world, and taking photographs. There is a passion and excitement in exploring, discovering hidden views, unexpected juxtapositions, snapping up trinkets of fate — like one extended eureka moment.  

H.L.: How do you know when your work is finished?

M.C-B.: Ideally, I would put it away in a desk drawer for a year like Hemingway suggested writers should, then see it fresh and for what it is.  Usually I know I’m done when I glimpse it from afar or in a mirror and can believe for an instant it is a film still or I’m looking through a rainy window.  

H.L.: Have you ever had a “mistake” — a project that seemed to be going south — turn into a wonderful discovery instead?

M.C-B.: Many times I can’t figure out what’s wrong, and so I get frustrated and just grab a brush and start mashing the paint around, and sometimes, lo and behold, there’s the answer. It’s like my subconscious reaches up through my confusion and says, “Here, silly.”

H.L.: Name two artists you admire or who have influenced your work. What about their art appeals to you?

M.C-B.: Johannes Vermeer and Chuck Close. Both artists use complex techniques to create images from life, both play with light and image perception or formation, and their works exude that subtle glow of a real time and place.

H.L.: If you weren't an artist, what do you think you’d be?

M.C-B.: Maybe a physicist! Part of my undergraduate degree was in physics, and I’ve always been interested in fundamental questions, so investigating part of our universe and expanding our understanding of it just a bit further would be (almost) as fun as painting. I have a day job working as a technician in a local college physics department, so I play with science when I’m not playing with art.

— Steve Pfarrer

Mishael Coggehall-Burr’s new exhibit, “Spring in the City: Urban Landscapes,” runs through March 31 at Hope & Feathers Gallery in Amherst.