The spirit of family members and family friends long gone channel through artist Andrea Coleman as she digitally manipulates found images and archives of portraits and candids hand-picked from old photo albums. Growing up and “not knowing how to stay out of grown folks’ business,” Coleman often inquired about the people in the albums and the stories that lie beneath—stories like that of Earlene, her great aunt featured in her newest piece, who she never met; she died in a furnace fire decades ago. Through her work, Coleman is able to give the individuals a second life that can be found on the walls of galleries, in fairs and forever in her artist portfolio.
Coleman found her way to making digital work by happenstance—she originally studied painting as an undergraduate at Columbia College. She says she found herself in a bind with a portrait assignment the night before the due date, and decided to experiment with a favorite photo of her mother, which she says “looked just like herself, too.” She scanned the photo and pulled an all-nighter, completely distorting the image, and printed it out the next day and hung it. From then on, she realized she was onto something—the opportunity to shift the trajectory of her practice, and honor and preserve her family history on her own terms. Her last solo exhibition, in February 2020, “For Memory: These Are Deities in My Eyes,” curated by Zakkiyyah Najeebah Dumas-O’Neal at Blanc Gallery, spoke to that notion. Large-scale prints on canvas and vinyl hung from the ceiling like divine beings, and to Coleman, they are just that.
Elements of her painting practice come out in her digital work through her use of bright color blocks and mark-making on the images that appear fragmented, distorted, like colored light leaks on film. One throughline in her mark-making is the act of whiting out areas to mimic the way the mind stores and shares memories. Oftentimes through oral history, things get left out or stories are told with holes in them. She has a spotty memory herself. The marks aren’t premeditated, but rather a feeling. She works with the image and intuitively marks it based on how she knew the person or on the stories that she’s heard.
“It’s also me trying to celebrate their existence, and give life to how they were then,” she says. “It’s a lot of spirituality that goes on within my work, and I express the spirit within it. I have no fear of doing that. I think it’s an exchange. They give me a little bit of what I need to complete the image, and I have all of the information I need from them. It’s not all practical. I know a lot of people have a lot of questions, and I’m just like, you can ask the photos.”
She hopes to shift her practice to video projects. Like her digital work, she distorts the image by exploring perception and point of view through sphere-shaped videography of mundane experiences and settings that purposely leave out pertinent details of place, sometimes sound and context. She has work exhibited at Wa Na Nari in Seattle, Washington, and has a forthcoming duo exhibition with artist Warith Taha at FLXST Contemporary in July. (Ciera Mckissick)