We had the good fortune of connecting with Colette Copeland and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Colette, what led you to pursuing a creative path professionally?
I’ve loved making things ever since I was little. I remember constructing a mouse house when I was 6 or 7. It was very important to me that all of it was handmade including the wallpaper, furniture and magazines. I’m sure the mice didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as I did. I studied art in college, but didn’t see how I could make a living doing what I loved. I took a 7 year sabbatical from art and worked in the corporate world. I wouldn’t trade those years for anything. I learned a lot of valuable skills about marketing, sales, leadership, teamwork and networking. Most importantly, it clarified for me that art and teaching were my true passions. While raising two kids and doing some consulting work on the side, I went to graduate school on a full fellowship, received my MFA and started teaching in 2001. Almost 20 years later, I am thankful that I can do what I love and share my passion, creativity and knowledge to my students, while still maintaining my own artistic practice.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
Most of the time when I tell people I am an artist, they immediately think of someone who draws or paints. When I respond that I don’t know how to draw or paint very well, that I am a conceptual artist who makes experimental performance videos, confused looks usually follow. My art always starts with a concept or idea, inspired by the the world around me and/or specific experiences or stories. Issues of gender, gender violence, death and contemporary culture have all been prominent themes in my work. But there is also a lighter side. I’m very inspired by the art movements of Dada and Fluxus, embracing absurdity, spectacle, chance, experimentation and non-conformity. In some cases, there is a healthy dose of subversive humor that underlies a more serious message. As a life-time student of dance and more recently aerial arts, performance art or using one’s body as a tool for expressing oneself, is also a key component of my work.
Key lessons that I’ve learned along the way: *Engage in creative play, ideally daily *Be yourself and don’t let the naysayers extinguish your creative spirit *Find a job that pays your bills and is flexible enough without sapping your physical and mental energy to make your creative work *Push yourself out of your comfort zone. Within failures are the seeds of success. If you aren’t failing, you aren’t growing. *Once an artist, always an artist. You don’t stop being an artist, just because you aren’t making money at it *Probably the hardest lesson is about rejection. For every “acceptance”, there are 20 or 30 or more rejections. Rejection letters are not a reflection of you as a person or your art. Your art just didn’t fit within the curator’s focus/theme. If you take the rejections personally, you will live your life in a perpetual state of depression. Right now I am super excited about my current exhibition–My Jesse James Adventure on display at UTD’s SPIN art gallery from August 11-September 26th. It’s been a 3 year labor of love; a performative journey exploring ancestral legacy, gun violence, fake news and criminal celebrity stardom.
My fascination with Jesse James stems from childhood family lore—tales of my blood kinship to the notorious outlaw Jesse James. My great-great-grandmother’s 2nd husband Billy James was Jesse and Frank James’ first cousin. Over the past three summers, I traveled to the sites where Jesse James lived and outlawed, filming and leaving my DNA in the form of a lock of hair at each site. The performative journey/quest spanned 9 states and over 4000 miles. The 22-channel video installation addresses the cultural mythos of criminals, specifically how the icon Jesse James was/is presented and commodified in books, films, comics and historical sites, as well as the current and problematic fascination with DNA networks such as ancestryDNA.com. I am giving private and semi private masked tours of the exhibition at the gallery. Message me through my website for more info.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Colette’s FAV List: Art museums–Ft. Worth Modern and Nasher. Both have beautiful architecture and impressive contemporary art exhibitions. The Nasher’s sculpture garden is one of my favorite gems of the city for a meditative respite. The most interesting person also happens to own the most interesting gallery in Dallas–Joel Cooner of Joel Cooner Gallery. The gallery specializes in Tribal, Asian, Oceanic, Pre-Columbian and Ancient art but also has a great photography collection. Joel entertains with stories about each art work and his worldly travels. Night Life–The Rose Room for a drag show. The performers are all amazingly talented. A dance/theater performance by Danielle Georgiou Dance Theater in Dallas. Javier’s for gourmet Mexican. It’s a landmark in Dallas. Drinks–Bottled n Bond in Frisco–only a mile from my house. Adam is a master mixologist and I would argue a talented performance artist as he crafts his specialty cocktails. My favorite drink isn’t on the menu anymore–It’s an herbal, smoky mezcal creation called Waiting to Exhale. Wine Tasting at Buon Vino in Plano with sommelier Gerald Morgan. A trip to visit me would be incomplete without lots of fun physical activity: *Nia dance classes and yoga at Move Studio. *Aerial yoga and hammock class at Altitude Aerial Arts and Fitness in Frisco where we will fly! *When covid is over–a paddleboard yoga class in the rooftop pool at Cowboy Fitness in Frisco.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I have had so many great teachers and mentors. Without them I would never be where I am today. First, a shout out to my mother who raised me to believe that I could be anything and do anything that I wanted to, teaching me that I didn’t need a man to support me. Second, a shout out to my husband of 30 years who has supported my fiercely independent spirit and creative work, even when he didn’t understand it. My second grade teacher Mrs. Mandic who welcomed my alter ego–a handmade puppet named Psychedelic to class every day. She allowed him to have a voice in class and participate in all the class activities. She encouraged my creative writing and nominated me for a special summer poetry workshop. I wrote and illustrated my first book in her class. My photography professors at Pratt Institute & art professors at Syracuse University who nurtured my talent. The book Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Art Making by David Bayles & Ted Orland The filmmaker and poet Richard Bailey who has collaborated with me on so many projects over the past 5 years. Thank you for bringing my creative vision to life on the big screen. My kids who have put up with me and bravely participated in my work, sometimes having to collect “dead” things on treasure hunts. I’ve provided them with years of therapy fodder. My students who inspire me everyday! For whose who aren’t mentioned–you know who you are and how much I appreciate your support of me and my work.
image of Richard Bailey in sand dunes photographed by Dallin Peacock image of Richard Bailey on ground/camera photographed by Sam Hartmann
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