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Nature in a cage: Robert Coon’s figurative abstractions

Robert Coon’s work has been shown in dozens of exhibits over the decades and resides in many museums and collections. He is a visual person who learned old school with drawings and that was how he was drawn to three-dimensional shapes.

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As a painter turned sculptor, Robert Coon came up the old school way, learning the basics of drawing and perspective.

“I always start with drawings,” he says from his studio of 30 years in Vero Beach. “I sit down and start sketching out ideas, dozens of them. Maybe one will catch my attention and then I develop it into a series. It has to be a series as several forms spin out of the main idea.”

He will be exhibiting one of his “only slightly Kinetic” works at the upcoming Kinetic Art exhibit in Boynton Beach in March.

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“I’ll be showing IPO 004, a brightly colored, abstract sculpture in aluminum metal. It’s part of my Containment Series where an organic object is contained by some sort of cage or frame. This piece has been shown all over the US and in Mexico. It does move, but not a lot, it rocks back and forth slightly in the wind. It does bring another aspect to the work.”

Robert Coon’s work is very physical, with large pieces of metal being welded, suspended, attached, and manipulated. Born in Charlotte, NC, Coon attended the University of Georgia (B.F.A.), and the University of Massachusetts (M.F.A.). Early in his career, he concentrated on painting, with various painting techniques. He concentrated on painting for nearly a decade. He then moved toward 3D, making unique waxes, cast in bronze or aluminum.

Since the mid 1980s, he has made large outdoor works fabricated in aluminum and painted, using bright colors since 1963. His work is included in many collections – civic, academic, and individual.

“I work alone, no assistants or helpers at all, so the work takes a while,” he says. “But to me, that is part of what it is in the end. I can see every step of the way.”

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The Containment Series can be seen as many things – nature against man-made, freedom against confinement, ideas struggling to break free of discipline. Organic shapes strain against their straight-line cages. He sometimes exhibits the drawings with the sculptures, but he doesn’t consider it necessary.

“I think somewhere along the way I hung a piece inside another piece and that sparked the idea. Then dozens of sketches followed. Even with the drawings, it doesn’t always end up looking like that in the sculptures as the process changes during the creating.”

Robert Coon’s figurative abstractions

Other series of his are inspired by washed-up hurricane debris he dragged off the beaches. The enormous amount of debris that washed up near the Disney Resort in Vero Beach after back to back hurricanes a few years ago looked like sculptural forms to him – ones that had been created by force through nature.

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“I’m a visual person, I learned old school with drawing but was then drawn to three-dimensional shapes. I spent a lot of years teaching drawing. It was a successful change for me and the way metal lends itself to curves against straight lines fascinates me. After the drawings, I then make a maquette, usually about 8-12 inches high. This is necessary when I submit proposals to shows so they can see the sculpture in its entirety and how it will look in the space they want to place it in.”

He also needs viewers to see the negative space – the shapes between the lines and metal. This is as important as the metal itself.

Coon made his way to Florida because of his wife. They were living in the northeast when she applied for a job in Florida. She suggested he apply for a sabbatical from his teaching job. They both got accepted and have been in Vero for 3 decades.

“It’s been good here as I can work outside year-round,” Coon says. “I don’t need a big indoor studio here.  I was an artist in residence at the Vero Beach Museum and had a great space there.”

His work has been shown in dozens of exhibits over the decades and resides in many museums and collections. Next up, after the Boynton Beach Kinetic Art show, he has a sculpture for an exhibit called Wild Things in Asheville, NC happening in April.

“This one is intriguing because they are showing animal photographs with sculptures,” he says.

He’ll be at the Boyton Beach exhibit, supporting this one-of-a-kind exhibit with his large outdoor work, watching it spin in the wind.

More about the artists online at robertcoonsculptor.com

Robert Coon’s figurative abstractions

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