Whitehot Magazine

Pictures from a Pandemic: Joe Coleman

Joe Coleman's selfie of the work-in-progress.


   It was at the suggestion of Jeffrey Deitch that Joe Coleman focused on Edouard Manet’s Le Dejeuner sur l’herbe as source material and this launched the maestro of hyperrealism onto a journey. The Manet, which centers on a naked woman and two fully dressed men, sitting on the grass, was turned down by the 1863 Paris Salon jury but was shown at the Salon des Refuses, which was birthed that same year, where it was greeted with shock and mockery, and there’s a scene in Emile Zola’s novel, The Masterpiece, where the doomed artist hears laughter from where his work is hung at that Salon which indicates just how wrenching this could be.

   Luncheon on the Grass is now one if the most durably famous images in the world and an accepted curtain raiser on Modernism. We here see Coleman looking at his half completed canvas. “The painting is called Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe avec la Dieu Fée Mère de l'Avant-garde (Luncheon on the Grass with the Fairy Godmother of the Avant-garde) he says. Fée Mère (Fairy Godmother), I inquired? “He gave birth to people like Basquiat and Francis Bacon and Philip Guston. And the title is also a take-off on The Mothers of Invention, Frank Zappa’s band.”

  An obsessive and punctilious searcher and researcher, Coleman, is, like most good artists, a shameless borrower. This painting is a study in reference, borrowing, influence and quotation. Coleman’s borrowings here include a quote from De Kooning, which is actually about borrowing, and who here himself quotes, yes, Manet. Ir runs: “I had my own eyes, but I wasn't always looking in the right direction. I was certainly in need of a helping hand. Now I feel like Manet who said, ‘Yes, I am influenced by everybody. But every time I put my hands in my pockets I find someone else's fingers there’."

Joe Coleman, Edouard Manet, crowded by his descendants.

   Coleman’s borrowings, inevitably, become wholly his own thing. The nude on the bottom left of the section of the painting you see here is taken from Olympia, another Manet, and one considered at least as shocking in its time as Luncheon on the Grass.

“I have her wearing a Covid mask and vizor,” Coleman says. “And she has replaced the old woman sitting in the wheelchair with Hallowe’en mask in the Diane Arbus photograph.”

  Coleman will frequently take the game-plan of a medieval icon-painter – a commanding central image, the smaller surrounding scenes – and run with it. As he has done here. The landscape in which you find references to such other Manet godchildren as Jean Dubuffet, Keith Haring, Jim Nutt and Kaws is referenced from Pastoral Concert by Titian which was itself borrowed by Manet for his Luncheon on the Grass. This labyrinth of echoing references is only partially described in this article and the painting is only partially done. And as Coleman has said before and is clear here “all my portraits are in a way self-portraits.”

   This painting will be presented at Edouard Manet’s Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe, 1863, a show which will consist of takes on the painting by several artists, and which is scheduled for February 2021 at Jeffrey Deitch’s gallery in Los Angeles. WM


Anthony Haden-Guest


Anthony Haden-Guest (born 2 February 1937) is a British writer, reporter, cartoonist, art critic, poet, and socialite who lives in New York City and London. He is a frequent contributor to major magazines and has had several books published including TRUE COLORS: The Real Life of the Art World and The Last Party, Studio 54, Disco and the Culture of the Night.




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