A Portrait Of Three Artists: Adrian Coleman

For Adrian Coleman, architecture is the glue that binds together his creative projects – and there are many.

Coleman paints in the early morning, works on music in the evening, and is a full-time architect during the day. Like, Naomi Safran-Hon and Gabrielle Watson, GO Brooklyn is his first major museum exhibition.

“For me, this [exhibition] is a big deal,” he said. “I’ve been in a lot of little shows… this is a quantum leap, almost like coming out as an artist.”

Though Coleman aspires to be a working artist, architecture absorbs most of his time.

“I have a love-hate relationship with architecture because it is a fascinating discourse, but the day-to-day practice can be enormously frustrating,” he said. “Painting is a response to this frustration.”

Coleman, who was born in England and grew up in New Jersey, comes from a creative family; his grandfathers painted and his uncle is a musician. While Coleman’s parents encouraged his creativity from an early age, they also urged him to pursue a profession that offered some stability. He chose architecture. Now Coleman views his background as an architect as a platform for his art.

“I painted from the time when I was very young,” Coleman said. “When I was 14, that’s when I decided I wanted to do it seriously.”

Coleman studied painting and architecture as an undergraduate at Yale University, where he convinced one art professor to let him take a painting class even though it overlapped by 30 minutes with an architecture class he was already enrolled in, which meant he consistently had to show up late.

“I thought he was more creative and more interesting than anyone else I had met at that time,” said Peter Feigenbaum, a friend who met Coleman in a drawing class at Yale freshman year.

Coleman’s painting abilities were “always present” in his architecture work, Feigenbaum added. But when Coleman considered applying to Masters of Fine Art programs, his undergraduate professors cautioned against it.

“At one point, I called my professors up and told them I was thinking about doing an MFA. They basically said, my work wasn’t ready yet,” Coleman said. “I think they were probably right, but I was impatient to expand my horizons.”

Ultimately, Coleman decided to continue studying architecture at Columbia University. “I chose a program that was less about hammers and nails and more about making art, crazy ideas and beautiful representations,” he said.

Crown Fried Chicken (Image courtesy of Adrian Coleman)

Crown Fried Chicken (image courtesy of Adrian Coleman)


Given Coleman’s study of architecture, painting on paper with watercolors was a natural choice because the technique is somewhat similar to drawing; however, he did experiment with other mediums.

“For a while I experimented with spray paint and stencils because I thought I needed to be edgier,” he said. Watercolors won out, though.

Coleman joined the Brooklyn Watercolor Society in 2011 to meet other artists that use the same medium, and learn from them. The group was a welcome find since watercolor painting is a form that many artists opt not to focus on, exclusively.

Albert Massimi, President of the Brooklyn Watercolor Society, said Coleman’s use of the medium is “excellent.”

“He knows his technique, he has a good sense of composition and design, and a little whimsy in his paintings,” said Massimi, who also lent Coleman studio space in Forte Greene to show his work during the GO open-studio weekend.

Coleman entered GO mainly to show his work. “That was enough of an incentive,” he said.

Now that his work is on exhibition in the museum, he has loftier goals. Coleman hopes to grow his contacts in the art world, and gain gallery representation. He also aims to paint larger-scale watercolors, depicting scenes from Brooklyn and its changing neighborhoods.

“I do think about how people perceive my work and, more importantly, how people perceive me as an outsider moving into the neighborhood,” he said. “I often go into places I wouldn’t ordinarily go into, so I can paint them.”

Up next, Coleman likely will be participating in another Brooklyn Museum project. The museum has asked the Brooklyn Watercolor Society to give demonstrations and answer questions from visitors throughout the John Singer Sargent exhibit later this spring.

Coffeeshop/Barbershop (image courtesy of Adrian Coleman)

Coffeeshop/Barbershop (image courtesy of Adrian Coleman)

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