Marcia Coppel always knew she wanted to be an artist, but she also wanted to be able to earn a living. So when the time came for her to go to college, she studied speech therapy. “It was a good choice,” she says. “I missed out on contacts that I would have made if I had gone to art school, but I am much more financially secure.”
It was a good choice indeed, because her job as a speech therapist in Montgomery County Schools gave her time to travel and concentrate on art in the summers and after school. It demanded creativity and problem solving skills. She became a keen observer of people, very aware of nonverbal interactions as well as verbal communications.
Finding Her Voice—and Her Subject Matter
Initially an abstract painter, she documented her summer travels to Mexico with ink drawings. Later, she tried to turn the drawings into paintings, but she was dissatisfied with the results. It was not until she moved to Mexico to live for a few years that she found her personal language. Her work was full of color and life. She credits artist Carolyn King, who lived, worked and taught in Mexico, with helping her find her voice.
“Apart?? Together??,” her April 2019 show at Touchstone Gallery, is the latest installment in a series begun in the late 1990s inspired by her people-watching days on the beaches and in the cafes of Mexico. Her favorite places to draw include Puerto Vallarta, San Miguel de Allende and Guanajuato. The paintings are colorful but the color is imaginary and is added after the drawings are enlarged. They are spontaneous and whimsical, and sometimes also sad and lonely, just like life. “I like that the overall effect of the painting is happy,” she says. “Times are so grim now.” Coppel hopes people who see the show will enjoy the color and whimsy of the works as well as the loneliness they express at times.
Series Documents Changes in Human Behavior
The entire series documents changes in personal interactions over time. “When the series started out, I had people really communicating with each other, looking at each other and sitting at tables and enjoying each other,” she says. “Then people stopped doing that. They started using their cellphones, so the series changed.” Now her paintings are populated with people who might be looking at each other or away, who might be duplicated or even be floating in air.
In the time that she has been working on this series, Coppel has changed as well. “As an artist, I have changed in complexity. The figures are more complicated now,” she says. Her line drawings, some of which are also in the show, now depict more complex figures, still with whimsy but also much overlap. “The overlap of the line drawings and the complexity of the figures affect the paintings and vice versa.”
After more than 20 years, Coppel is still not finished with this series, perhaps because her subject matter continues to fascinate her and evolve. It will be interesting to see where humanity takes her work in the coming years.