CY Art Tour: Neighborhood permeates artist’s canvases

Artist Mike Coulson

Artist Mike Coulson

The Cooper-Young Art Tour returns this May 1, filling the shops, restaurants, and bars with original visual art works as well as live music. The tour, which is held on the first Friday of every month, lasts 6-9 p.m. and is free.

This month we spotlight one of the artists whose work will be on display on the tour, Mike Coulson, who will be showing his paintings at Strano! Coulson received a BFA from the University of Memphis and a MFA from the University of Georgia with a concentration in painting and drawing. Over the years he has worked as an illustrator, graphic designer, web designer, mural painter and teacher. He currently works as a full time artist pursuing a personal interest in painting and spending much of his time in the studio exploring the possibilities of paint on canvas.

Coulson has exhibited in many regional and national shows and has had several solo exhibitions of his work. He feels that painting is a creative process that allows him to share his experiences and encourage others to celebrate with him this journey down the road of life:

How did you first become an artist? 

I have been interested in art as far back as I can remember. My first paintings were watercolor landscapes and at the age of 14, my grandmother gave me a set of oil paints for Christmas. I painted throughout high school and when planning for college, decided to major in art. I attended Memphis State University (now Univ. of Memphis) majoring in painting and drawing, and went on to earn an MFA in from the University of Georgia. Upon graduating I worked as a mural painter and taught continuing education classes in the evening. To increase my earning potential, I began working as an illustrator and graphic designer. The murals were theme based, westerns, movies stars, pirates, etc, and were hung in hotels, theatres and fast food chains. Working with various clients, I executed both editorial and product illustration. With the introduction of the worldwide web and the proliferation of personal computers, I started designing, building and maintaining Websites. Now being retired from the workforce, I am pursuing a personal interest in painting, spending much of my time in the studio exploring the possibilities of paint on canvas.

What is your favorite piece you’ve ever worked on? 

I can’t truly say I have a favorite piece that I’ve worked on. Although in my opinion, some compositions seem more successful than others. In the last 10 years, my interest has been focused on non-objective abstract art. I work on a painting until I feel it is complete and by complete, meaning that all elements are working together in unison. My style of abstraction has changed over the years. The earlier work was very controlled and linear, an extension of the control I exercised over the illustrations. These fell into the category of geometric abstraction. There was much emphasis on playing angular geometric shapes against curving lines that created a sensation of movement.  Today there is much more painterly freedom in the work with some inclination to use line to steady the forms, create stability and tie the piece together. I would say that I work in an intuitive manner through mark making and selective observation. Paint will often be scraped off and areas painted over until they feel right, always being conscious of composition and balance. While the paintings have no identifiable subject matter, there is a sense of the landscape. Often the compositions have a horizon line or are divided into a quadrant with much of the detail running vertically and horizontally along the crossing lines. My most recent work has an atmospheric or etherial quality.

What are you working on right now (or in the recent past) that you’re excited about? 

I’m very excited about the paintings I’m currently working on. Two were hung in an invitational show at Askew Nixon Ferguson Architectural firm during the month of April. I began the paintings with washes of color gradually building up layers of color. Some areas are left loose with obvious splatters and drips, other areas have thicker paint applied. The subject matter is still non-objective, but rather than retaining a completely loose and painterly technique, I tie the paintings together with line and geometric shapes that complement and add a semblance of order and structure to the painterly areas. In future work, I’m thinking about adding some recognizable subject matter to play off of the geometric and painterly areas.

What attracted you to the Cooper-Young Art Tour? How did you get involved?

I became involved with the Cooper-Young Art Tour through Jay Etkin of Jay Etkin Gallery. I had a show at Leadership Memphis Gallery 363 in February, 2015. When the show ended, Jay took several of my paintings back to the gallery and he now represents my work. We have since developed a great working relationship, so when the opportunity arose to show on the CY Art Tour, I immediately accepted. Jay has a tremendous influence on the arts in Memphis and he continues to come up with innovative ways to promote the arts. The Cooper Young Art Tour is a great example of offering exhibition opportunities to emerging and seasoned artists and at the same time providing additional exposure to CY business establishments. He is a good man to have in town.


Memphis Made Brewing (768 S. Cooper St.): Gwendolyn Barnes and Pam Cobb

Phillip Ashley Chocolates (798 S. Cooper St.: paintings by Rachel Ford

Tart Bakery (820 S. Cooper Street): Kong Wee Pang –

Me & Mrs. Jones (889 S. Cooper St.): small works by Johnny Taylor and others

Cowork Memphis (902 S. Cooper St.): Normal Soskel

Celtic Crossing (903 S. Cooper Street): Live music.

CY Glassworks & Gifts (906 S. Cooper St.): Leigh Ann Wilmot and Robert Snyder –

Burke’s Book Store (936 S Cooper St.): Alex Warble

Jay Etkin Gallery (942 S Cooper St.): Pamela Hassler

Peridot (944 S. Cooper St.): Large Paintings by Johnny Taylor

Strano! (948 S. Cooper St.): Mike Coulson

Goner Records (2152 Young Ave.): Live music by Tyler Keith

Bar DKDC (964 S. Cooper St.): Wayne Edge, Brantley Elzey, Travis Carrier, Dr. Bob, Lee Gillespie, and Lamar Sorrento

Young Avenue Deli (2119 Young Ave.): Jeff Scott, photographs from the Archives of Elvis Presley

Java Cabana Coffeehouse (2170 Young Ave.): Tori Cooper

Ray Rico Freelance (2294 Young Ave.): Jimpsie Ayres

CYCA Offices (2298 Young Ave.): Carol Sams

Imagine Vegan Café (2299 Young Ave.): Group show

Author: LampLighter

The voice of Cooper-Young, a vibrant, diverse neighborhood to live, work and play, in the heart of Midtown Memphis, Tennessee.

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