Liz Coats

1946 | Auckland, New Zealand
Liz Coats — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Portrait of Liz Coats, courtesy of the artist

Australian abstract painter.

Liz Coats initially trained at the Elam School of Fine Arts at the University of Auckland. Having spent her early childhood in Sydney and Melbourne, she returned to Australia permanently in 1974, working in various cities and undertaking international residencies as well as postgraduate study in painting at the University of New South Wales (Sydney, MFA, 1997) and the Australian National University (Canberra, PhD, 2012). L. Coats has exhibited consistently since the 1970s and her work is held in major collections including the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne; Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney; Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane, and Auckland City Art Gallery New Zealand.

L. Coats has devoted her career to the exploration of colour in abstraction as an embodied, material practice that brings organic and formal issues into relation. Painting in series and relying on grid formations as a substrate, colour has remained her central focus, particularly how it mediates her preoccupations with dimensional insight, transition and connectedness. She says, “It seems to me that one learns about connectivity by being attentive to the gap between seeing colours and engaging with tangible colour media. This is where discoveries are made.” Her process entails subtle layering of translucent colour, at times inspired by natural patterns and forms, always responding and adapting to interferences and irregularities as they occur, looking for colour interactions that are alive to her vision. L. Coats sees herself as the “facilitator” rather than “controller” of materials, continually questioning and adapting to their chromatic weight, shape and spacing. In that process she gains insight into the workings of the broader world which the viewer is then invited to share. L. Coats draws on a range of perspectives, including Buddhism, early Russian modernism and archaeology, to deepen her practice-based research through abstraction.

The 1989 series The Fisherwoman and the Garden, made during L. Coats’ first residency in Japan, is in part a response to her encounter with Tibetan Buddhism, attempting to reconcile on canvas worldly phenomena with pure idea. The paintings take on a dynamic, bodily dimension through the interplay of lines, blocks and chevrons, and soft, floating colour, evoking a meditative state where spirit and matter are linked by breath. In the Cicada series (1992) we see the consolidation of this emphasis on breath and spacing: the colour shapes and gaps are of equal value, their oscillation creating a sense of ever-moving interconnection, with philosophical implications.

L. Coats’ commitment to abstraction, and what it yields through its intense attention to colour, light and the sensory body, has withstood the vagaries of fashion and the gendered assumptions of the art world. Today this commitment seems all the more timely, grounded as it is in relationship, attuned to constant change and the enmeshment of the human and more-than-human world.

Jacqueline Millner

A notice produced as part of the TEAM international academic network: Teaching, E-learning, Agency and Mentoring

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