Drawing inside the lines of a coloring book was not an option for Marion Coffey’s young children. She encouraged them to color outside the lines and not be confined by preconceived boundaries. According to her daughter, Coffey lived her life this way each day.
Wisconsin’s beloved artist, Marion Coffey, passed away in December at the age of 87. Throughout her long career, Coffey celebrated the beauty in everything she painted. She found joy in capturing the flowers in her garden, the interiors of her daughter’s home and the gorgeous vistas from her travels. It took many years of keen observation and experimenting to arrive at the bold, expressive style that characterizes her painting. Her style was her own — daring in color and young in spirit.
Born in Milwaukee, Coffey studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Fontainebleau School of Art in France. Early in her career she worked as a commercial illustrator. Influenced by the 19th and 20th century French artists, Vlaminck, Matisse and the Fauves, Coffey became less interested in realistic depictions and began painting with vibrant colors and expressive brush strokes. During the last two decades she developed a composition of large interlocking shapes reminiscent of one her favorite painters, Gabriele Münter, the 20th century German artist.
Tiny drawings filled her sketch book and were the foundation of her art. Coffey painted in all sizes but favored large scale. She sketched constantly during her travels bringing back many ideas for future work. Coffey enjoyed working on handmade paper, which added depth and texture to the painting surface. A prolific artist, she produced hundreds of paintings and prints.
In recent years, Coffey’s art focused on her travels to the British Isles, South of France, Spain, Tuscany, Kenya and Tanzania, and her hometown, Milwaukee. Her fans were many, and the gallery shows sold out quickly.
Coffey’s paintings take us on a colorful journey, capturing the essence of her subject, whether it is a vase of flowers, the brilliant patterns of African warrior robes, or the Milwaukee skyline. Working until the day she died, Coffey’s art embodies a spirit that remains forever young.
Tory Folliard, owner of Tory Folliard Gallery located in the Historic Third Ward, represented Marion Coffey for the last 20 years.