An interview with artist and photographer Robert Coury, who weaves his passion for nature and art together in fantastical ways.
Nature and art seem to go very hand and hand in your life. What about creating pieces of artwork that are based on nature inspires you? Do you often create your paintings and sketches while outside?
Ever since I was a child I was fascinated with the wonders of the natural world. Some of my earliest memories were of my mother taking my siblings and I to the public library where I would make a b-line to the books on nature and animals, pouring over and obsessing on the beauty of our planet. Growing up I would collect plant and rock specimens, captivated by their colors and textures. The wonder and awe I came into contact with when exploring the woods and swamps of my childhood home in South Florida were really the beginning stages of my forays into nature as an inspiration to create. Nature was and still is my constant companion and inspiration in creating a work of art. While I do enjoy making art in the beauty of the great outdoors it tends to be few and far between, preferring more to spend that time in nature studying, marveling, and collecting whatever natural curios the earth chooses to gift me.
We're in love with your watercolor paintings that depict a number of colorfully unique rocks. Where do you find the rocks to base these paintings off of? How does pairing them together on one page help bring about their beauty?
Oh my goodness, I love rocks! I have boxes of rocks that I've collected from all over the world. I'm continually inspired by each stone's surface and the intricate abstract art pieces frozen within the element. My current watercolor series, depicting rocks I've collected along Goat Rock Beach in Sonoma County, CA, is reminiscent of the specimen studies collected and painted by naturalists in the 19th century. For some reason I get a lot of joy out of arranging various objects together and I've found that moving rocks around into different groupings is almost meditative and calming. I enjoy the process of grabbing a handful of stones and watching as they find their way into their own color stories. Future directions with this series will probably find me creating stone paintings of the many rock collections I've gathered during all my travels.
From your photos on Instagram, it appears that you are inspired a lot during the golden hour, when the sun is beginning to reach the horizon and filtering everything with an ethereal glow. Why does painting during this time or going out to take photos when the earth is drenched in sunlight bring you so much happiness? Is there any other time of day you like to be creative as well? How does it compare/contrast to the golden hour?
Light, color, and texture pretty much dictate my artistic view of the world and what better time for the best lighting than a day's morning and evening golden hour? As a photographer and collector of light, it really is the most perfect time; the sweet spot if you will. I revel in these conditions because, yes it does make me happy in the moment, but it also provides the most perfect environment to capture some really great images. Yet, when it comes to creating in the the broader sense, it can happen for me at any time. While the golden hour might be the best time for photography, I find myself doing most of my painting, drawing, and editing during the noon hours of the day, usually working late into the evening. Coincidentally, I find myself using the mornings to plan my art, interact with other artists on social media, and focus my energy for the day. Regardless of when and where I make art, though, I feel it is important for me to break up each day with a number of different creative outlets to keep my mind engaged in the process.
How does living in Sonoma, CA affect your artwork and photography? Do you find that living in such a beautiful place with so much sun helps shape your perspective and influences your work?
When it comes down to it, every place I've ever lived has affected and shaped my artwork. Being an innately curious person (particularly when it comes to the natural world) I love immersing myself in the culture and gnosis of the land around me, especially if I happen to live within it. Sonoma County itself is teeming with so many distinct ecological zones that any artist could become easily overwhelmed. I'm constantly inspired regardless of whether I'm at the coast collecting water worn stones, meandering though the meadows and fields of the rolling countryside, or stepping in awe between the massive trunks of a silent redwood forest. For all the places I have lived, Sonoma continually proves to be one of the most beautiful and pastoral parts of our country.
You are both an artist and photographer who uses everything from acrylics, oils, gauche, mixed media, found objects, collage, film, and digital photography. How do you balance all of these different mediums? How do you decide which medium to use for each project or artwork that you wish to create? How do you steer your passions for painting and photography in both similar and different directions?
I love this question so much, because when I sat down and thought about it, I really have no balance when it comes to using all these different mediums! Many times I've caught myself joking with friends that I'm an ADHD Artist, not able to focus on just one medium or technique for an extended period of time. The truth is, though, that I love learning new skills and techniques that I can utilize later in my art.
Like, for example, I have been noticing a small trend of people on social media recently who are creating their own pigments (more specifically, paints created with dirt and minerals collected from the earth). With my interest piqued, I began researching the process and found that I had all the materials available in my own backyard, so I started creating my own earth pigments to use in my creations. I mean, what's more exciting than painting with a pigment garnered from the very earth you live on top of? Now, mind you, this obsession with making paint will most likely just consume me until the next project catches my attention (I'm a squirrelly artist that way) but it will be a technique and knowledge that I definitely utilize in my art from now on.
So, in retrospect, I don't normally decide on what medium to use so much as the medium chooses me, depending upon my current interests at the time. As for navigating the waters of both painting and photography respectively, I have found, quite recently actually, that of all the artistic media at my fingertips it's the photographed image that I will always come back to. In the end, not a day goes by that I don't take a photo or have a camera on me at any given moment.
Can you tell us a bit about your "The High Sierras" collection? Every piece you've made in this collection is really gorgeous. How did you pair collage and paint together to get the best result?
"The High Sierras" is an example of a collection of work that found me versus me choosing to consciously create it. Ever since I was a kid I've always loved the anthropomorphic mythological gods and goddesses of Ancient Egypt. Being an avid naturalist, the idea of animal headed humans made total sense to me and my overactive imagination. This carried over into my adult life and I've found myself creating a number of animal headed characters through the use of collage. The collection itself started with the creation of my "Mojave Mercenary," a little gray fox headed Daniel Boone figure that I decorated and adorned with some colorful patterns. I really enjoyed how the final product turned out and decided to do another one along the same theme. Eventually this morphed into a project where each piece involved had to include a collaged element, a series of patterns used to help create the environment, and the use of only four colors throughout each work of art. It was through this project that I not only learned how much I enjoyed working with both collage and paint together, but I also found that I enjoyed the parameters I set up for myself; throwing in an aspect of disciple that tends to be much needed for me to finish a body of work.
Finally, in a broader sense, can you explain more about your overall aesthetic and how your branding of "The Spirit Search" factors into your work? What do you enjoy most about sharing your work with others, both in person, on your website, and through Instagram?
The concept of The Spirit Search or Spiritsearch began to formulate during my early adolescence, when I was spending a good deal of time questioning my sexuality. I’d always felt a deep connection to God/Creator/Source/Spirit (however you classify It) and couldn’t fathom a religious system (namely the Catholic Church I’d been raised in) to condemn a person based on who they loved. This ignited my search for a spiritual system who’s doctrine was all encompassing and accepting of any human. My studies led me to the practice of Wicca (a nature based pagan religion) and subsequently many other metaphysical and spiritual practices. Ultimately, the influence of these spiritualities began to manifest themselves in my art and photography. I was quite literally searching for Spirit through the physical manifestation of my art.
Imagine, then, my surprise when I realized that Spirit was within and of everything around me! This aha moment as it were, was the impetus for me to open up even more and share the beauty of life, in all its fantastic colors, light, and texture with everyone I come into contact with. As a result, this ignited the belief deep in my soul that each one of us humans are amazing artists; each person a creator of his or her own physical existence. I love that social media has developed itself to a point where I have an opportunity to share, though my own creations, the magnificence and awe of Spirit I experience every day of my life. Each one of us is searching for Spirit in our own way and I hope, above anything else, to be an inspiration to those who feel themselves lost in doubt and fear. As an artist and creator, what better purpose could there possibly be than helping other creators come to this beautiful realization within their lives?
Robert Coury is an artist and photographer who was born and raised in South Florida where his passion for art began at a very young age. His love for the natural world and his never ending wanderlust has offered him the opportunity to express himself though various artistic media. With camera and paintbrush in hand he roams the forests and countryside of Northern California which he now happily calls home with his loving a supportive fiancé.