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An interview with: Emily Coan

Introducing the ethereally seductive paintings of New York based artist: @emily_coan

Exploring themes of "femininity, shame, & women’s labor set in fairytale-esque environments", American artist Emily Coan caught our eye with her playful depictions of the female form. Alluring and euphoric, Coan's figurative oil paintings are tantalisingly magical, her subjects often adorning a thin veil, perhaps symbolising the fragile layer that separates the physical and spiritual realm that is sometimes glimpsed in the primitive elation of sexuality.

"Over the past couple of years I’ve been thinking a lot about time, and how it functions differently depending upon context...Fairytales happen in unbound time" - Emily Coan

You can discover more of Emily Coan's work via her website:

Read on below for our new interview with Emily Coan where we discuss inspirations & more...

Where are you from and has your environment sculpted your outlook on life ?

I grew up between divorced parents in St Petersburg, Florida and the suburbs of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, although I was born in St Pete and spent most of my childhood there. For me, there was such a stark contrast between the cold, dry, brittle culture of Central PA and the humid, manic happy-hour-and-brainfry culture of Florida. Growing up in St Pete, it was a weird churn of southern and northern culture and ideology. I feel like a lot of people who settle in Florida, my grandparents included, were running away from something, running towards the promise of paradise in sunny Florida. That’s what makes it so weird. Florida is like a crazy, sloppy, dangerous paradise. It certainly gave me a lot of experience to make work about. 

What are the key ideas and themes that inspire you the most and why ? 

The through line with all of my work is femininity. Pushing against it, pushing towards it, feeling trapped by it, feeling ashamed by it, and ultimately attempting to embrace it. I remember coming into consciousness as a child, and being like “oh wow I’m a girl this time, this rocks” and then just constantly being slammed up against this wall of a world culture that has devalued the feminine. I grew up during 3rd wave feminism and was raised mostly by a single mom during my elementary school years. I truly expected misogyny to be figured out by the time I came of age. I think a lot of my work has been inspired by this fall of idealism into reality. That is shifting now; I have begun to feel more optimistic within the constraints of reality. I’ve been learning how to value and nurture my own feminine energies from within. The body of work I’m creating now reflects this. 

Are there any artists / books that have had a strong impact on you ? 

I love the world building of fantasy series - The Lord of the Ring trilogy, the Harry Potter books, The Mists of Avalon, Earthsea, and ACOTAR are some of my favorites. I’m probably also attracted to the struggle against good and evil, and I relate to that internally - the struggle with the healed and unhealed parts of myself. I love fairytales. A nonfiction book which has really inspired my work is Caliban and the Witch by Silvia Federici - it makes a case that the degradation of the feminine and devaluation of womens’ labor and bodies were necessary for the shift from feudalism to capitalism. It provides some important context for the way women are perceived in culture today. I’m most inspired by the life and career of Louise Bourgeois.

What does spirituality mean to you ? 

It means whatever connects you to source. I don’t know what “it” is, but I trust it. 

What drives you the most ?

For a long time, recognition drove me. But I now think that what was really underneath that desire for recognition, was a desire to be of service. A desire to serve the world through beauty, a desire to bring beautiful, meaningful things into this world.

How was this past year for you ?

This year has been insane. So many parts of my world imploded. I won’t go into detail, but it included family illness, growing out of codependency in friendship, addiction, and making some big moves in my career. I do fundamentally believe that tower card moments are blessings when perceived correctly, because they shake you out of your reality into something new. Change is uncomfortable for me, and I hate being uncomfortable, but at this point I’m well acquainted with it. Something better always comes about after a tower moment (or year). 

En Caul (Pietà) (2023) - Photo courtesy of de boer gallery

How are you currently feeling as we journey into 2024 ?

Honestly I feel really good. I’m moving at a slower pace and learning to savor life more. My husband, Jake, really grounds me. I love our life together.  I’m really excited about the work that’s coming into being in the studio. I have a solo show at DIMIN inTribeca opening in March 2024, so until then I’m just making the work, learning to trust, and enjoying the ride. 



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