Except for the paintings on the walls, the Small Space Gallery on Audubon Street would look just like an everyday office, complete with cubicles, pencil holders and family pictures. In the hands of expressionist artist Sharon Coffin, however, the cubicle walls become the setting for a world of insatiable desire with few boundaries.
Until Oct. 31, the Small Space Gallery will host Coffin’s exhibit, called “Dr. Love and Other Strangers.” The gallery is located at the Arts Council of Greater New Haven building on 70 Audubon Street and is free and open to the public from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Most of the pictures featured in the exhibit are roughly drawn, with bright, dramatic colors and thick lines. Themes of aggressive lust dominate many of the scenes. In nearly every picture, men leer at heavily made-up women.
One picture, “Inside Trixie’s Apartment” shows a man in a trench coat snickering at a weeping woman in lingerie. Phrases such as “There is no escape from me” and “Oh yeah baby yes” curl around the boundaries of the picture.
The cinematic look of many of the pictures is not accidental. Coffin earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in theater from the University of California at Irvine and cites her theater experience as a powerful influence on her work.
“I like to think of my pictures as theatrically based and I see the images like stills from a movie,” she said.
As in a film, the images tell a story. Viewers follow the escapades of two characters, Dr. Love and his sidekick Trixie, as they experience what Coffin calls “a psychedelic, hedonistic world.”
However, in one room of the gallery, the tone shifts dramatically. In what she calls her “Isolation” pieces, all of the pictures are black and white with softer, smoother brush strokes. Coffin said she made these paintings in response to the illness of someone close to her.
Though she said the response has been overwhelmingly positive, Coffin also mentioned that some of her pieces have stirred up controversy.
“I have had some women make comments about my pieces, that they were demeaning to women,” she said. “And I see it as completely the opposite.”
Coffin is only the latest artist to exhibit her work in the Small Space Gallery. Some 1,100 members of the Arts Council can display their work at the gallery. Coffin praised the gallery for giving emerging artists a venue to display their work.
“I am pretty new to this whole New Haven community of artists, [and] the Arts Council — gives an emerging artist a chance to have a solo exhibition,” Coffin said.
Malerie Diedrich, editor of Arts!, the monthly publication of the Arts Council of Greater New Haven, also spoke of the opportunities the gallery provides.
“We deal with all the ranges of artists, from this being their first show to them being world renowned,” Diedrich said.
Diedrich expects a large crowd for the official reception on Friday.
“The rumor for [Coffin] is that she is going to have a big opening,” Diedrich said, adding that the controversy about the explicit nature of the paintings might help draw in the curious.