The Art of L. Haywood Coffey

Viewzone review by Susan Laslo



  One exciting opportunity on the internet is the potential to find new and uniquely interesting objects d'art. "Art" is a very large category on the search engines.

If you dig deep in to the pages of links, you will sometimes find devoted or new artists who don't have agents or galleries to hinder their creativity or affordability. These artists create because they are "who they are." Often they, themselves, are mystified by the work that comes through their own hands.

I have an absolute fascination with masks. It started when I was given a rather frightening ceremonial mask from Bali. I had so many comments from that one mask that I bought another "to keep it company." Soon friends and family were giving me masks from their travels all over the world. Masks are kind of a signature of culture- often taking their origin in religious or ritual heritage.

These masks by North Carolina (US) artist, L. Haywood Coffey, struck me as icons of a different kind.


Created from a sudden epiphany of inspiration, Coffey's bold masks demand attention. At first glance they are totally unexpected and sort of shocking. After a moment of observation, though, they transform into a pleasant celebration of shape and color.

Coffey, in his late 40's, only recently discovered his painting talents. Originally a jewelry maker and leather worker, Coffey took some painting classes and felt something inside of him come "alive." Within one year, he painted over 200 canvases and started to create his unusual masks.

His paintings, like his masks, are mostly primitives, with symbol-type designs and lively palettes. His unorthdox use of color and ragged shape impose visual dominance, and evoke an immediate reaction. The odd symbols and shapes seem ready to speak to us through some forgotten language. His masks are almost haunting images, yet somehow they seem strangely familiar.

Coffey creates the masks from pieces of leather in a process that is almost "magic." "They pretty much just happen..." confesses Coffey. "The ideas that I have when I begin are seldom present in the result. What I create is something that seems to come through me and express itself. The drying of the leather allows the mask to really take a form of its own."

His creations, 2 to 3 feet tall, are not representative of any specific religion, culture or ceremony, but they do seem to have an almost "esoteric" quality. Even if you're not a collector of tribal or cultural art pieces, the color and shape of these strange creations are temptation enough to make you want to own one. You can contact the artist

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