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Artist, Michael Coy at Burning Man "Be the Menagerie"


Artful Musings:

Artist, Michael Coy's "Be the Menagerie" at Burning Man

By Maja Wood 

Michael Coy is explaining some of the references and inspirations behind his work Be the Menagerie, which is heading to Burning Man at the end of the month. But I can barely concentrate on what he's saying because I'm so mesmerized by how he's saying it, as a stream-of-consciousness flurry of ideas comes at me.

Michael Coy in his West County studio with the beginnings of Be the Menagerie to the right.His hands go from one area of the work in progress to another, talking about each part, pulling the pieces of the story together. The hands go over to the tiger in the picture, which, by the way, has butterfly wings and an animal trapped inside its rib “cage.” He says something about how all the animals (there are several in the painting) will have their faces cut out and then people can place their own faces through the openings and have their photos taken. He then points to the lily pad the tiger is stepping on, and then to the lily flower that seems to be growing out of its head. “It's not actually a Tiger Lily, but it is now because it's part of the tiger...” As he keeps talking, I'm starting to see how it's all connected, the humans with their faces in the animal cut outs, the lily flowers that are part tiger, all the rest of the plant world, the butterflies, the insect world. We're all in this together, all a part of each other. And as that piece of the picture starts making itself know to me, Coy shifts his hands to another area and says something about passages and portals. He then turns to find an older work of his: “See, here I was playing around with the idea of portals and space and scale...” and he goes off to another corner of his studio to rummage through a very packed shelf and find the book which first sparked this particular idea. 

Coy is an accomplished painter with a keen eye, and his more traditional paintings of landscapes and foliage capture the color and beauty of the natural world. But, he is also a man of intense curiosity and intellect, and his fantasy paintings will capture your mind. Each of them is like a story puzzle, which he pieced together by connecting the dots of a lifetime's worth of inspiration and knowledge

 Be the Menagerie is the latest of his works which is both a vibrant visual treat and a story waiting to unfold itself to the willing viewer. From Aug. 30 to Sept. 7, the 70,000 people at Burning Man will be able to see which story unfolds for each of them. 

This year, Coy's installation is being placed directly in front of the effigy of The Man—the central figure of Burning Man. (See photo.) When I ask him about being given such a prime location, Coy simply responds, “It's a very nice spot. I'm grateful to have it.”

When he learned of the placement, Coy figured the project would look best in relation to The Man if it had a central piece that jutted up right where the effigy stands. He had assisted his friend Tony Speirs with an earlier Burning Man piece called Fortuna which has that kind of pointed top. Now, he's  incorporating Speirs' work into the installation and the two friends are once again working on a project together and the two families are traveling to the festival again.

“I love the sense of community at Burning Man and the overall spirit there,” Coy says. “It inspires me.”