Yellow Rain Jacket

1989

Object

Artist

Donald W. Coen, United States

Country

  • United States

Object Info

This object may or may not be on view currently.

Donald W. Coen, United States

1989

54 in. x 73 in.

Denver Art Museum Collection: Gift of the artist, 2000.84

Photograph © Denver Art Museum 2009. All Rights Reserved.

Medium

  • paint

About

About the Artist

Don Coen was raised on a ranch in Lamar, Colorado, and now lives in Boulder. As a kid, he made hundreds of cowboy and Indian drawings, inspired by the likes of Frederic Remington and Charles Russell. He also sketched maps, people, and comic book characters while listening to the radio at night. “Thank God we didn’t have TV,” he says. Coen went on to study art at the University of Denver and the University of Northern Colorado. At that time art was all about abstraction, so most of his early paintings focused less on realism and more on color and form. Several years later, on a trip back to the Lamar family ranch, Coen witnessed a stunning plains sunset that led him to return to subjects of rural western life. He says:

I feel what I am doing is important because this type of life—farm and ranch life—is changing rapidly. It seems like every day a farm family goes out of business. These are proud, honest, hard-working families whose story has never been told in art. I’m trying to tell that story in my work. I feel I have a kinship with them in that I spent the first 20 years of my life on a farm.

Coen’s signature tool is the airbrush, which he likes because he can achieve a highly luminous paint surface. His airbrush applies paint in extremely thin coats, and Coen creates rich, sophisticated colors by strategically layering them. “The color you put underneath has a tremendous effect on the color on top. It always shows through. If you want to paint, say, a brown area, you shouldn’t ever use brown paint but colors that, mixed together, will give you brown.” He doesn’t use white paint, but simply allows more or less of the white of the canvas to show through. Some areas of his paintings have as many as 70 light coats of paint, and each painting takes three or four months to complete.

What Inspired It

In place of his childhood visions of romantic cowboy adventures, Coen chooses to focus on quiet, ordinary moments in today’s rural West. As a contemporary ranch insider, he strives “to show the truth and the beauty and simplicity of what’s really happening in rural America, without all the clichés that go with it.”

This painting was inspired by a trip to Cheyenne Frontier Days, a yearly celebration of the West in Wyoming. Coen likes to arrive at the fairgrounds very early, before any other visitors are there, and watch the cowboys milling about with their horses tied up, getting ready for the day. He says, “I just loved how this yellow rain jacket was on the back of this saddle, the look of the saddle, the way the light was hitting on it, the way the horse was standing there; it was a great image.”

Focus
Focus

Coen carries a camera everywhere, shooting hundreds of images, and he creates paintings from his own photographs. He shoots his source photos with a telephoto lens, which for this piece allowed greater focus on the objects in the foreground while blurring those in the background. He creates a telephoto effect in the painting with softer focus on objects farther away.

Hints of a Story
Hints of a Story

The text on the saddle, “Champion Team-Roper, Reno-Nevada, 1985,” is located smack in the middle of the painting and it introduces a person you don’t see—the champion team-roper. The story of the rider isn’t in the action you see or in expressions you can interpret, but we can look for clues given by the artist:

• the yellow rain jacket, and its significance implied by the title;

• the rope hanging over the saddle horn;

• the back end of another horse nearby; and

• visible wear from the buckle on the saddle strap.

Black Mane
Black Mane

Coen does not use black paint, yet there are parts of this painting that look black. If you look closely at the hairs of the horse’s mane, for example, you can see that they are actually composites of color, built up with layers of blue and purple.

Contemporary Details
Contemporary Details

The black material wrapped around the saddle horn, or handgrip, is made of inner tube strips—modern day team ropers do this so that a rope will catch and not slide off the saddle. Coen thinks too many Western artists are frozen in the past; he likes to show the West as it really is.

Soft Lines
Soft Lines

Coen painted Yellow Rain Jacket with an airbrush. Airbrush guns break down paint into very fine particles and use compressed air to spray the paint onto the canvas. Coen prefers to create a “soft edge, a personal kind of edge” with his airbrush. When he needs to paint an edge, he designs a plastic stencil and attaches it to the painting with rolled-up pieces of masking tape, rather than putting the stencil flat against the canvas. This way the paint bleeds over the edge, creating a blurry line.

Dot Patterns
Dot Patterns

One of the reasons Coen likes using an airbrush is for the dot pattern it can create. Areas with a dot pattern are blurry up close, but they resolve into objects when you move away from the painting—like the effect Coen got as a kid when he would stand close to a large movie screen. He creates different sizes of dot patterns with different airbrushes.

Cropped View
Cropped View

In this painting, Coen focuses on the central part of the horse, with the head, mane, tail, and legs cropped away. By photographing just this part of the horse, he is able to notice things he initially missed, like the veins on the horse’s neck or the little piece of the mane that is slightly raised as if in a breeze.

Large Canvas
Large Canvas

Yellow Rain Jacket is nearly 4 ½ feet tall and 6 feet wide. Coen likes really large canvases, partly because of his experience with big views on the plains and also because of his fondness for film and old, big-screen movie theaters. He also likes how you can be absorbed into a large painting. Working with an airbrush, Coen needs to maintain a careful position in relation to canvas, so he has rigged up a pulley system in his studio that allows him to raise or lower his large canvases through a slot he’s cut out in the floor. Supporting his wrist to keep steady, he slowly and carefully sprays as he walks back and forth.

Teaching Resources

Quick Classroom Ideas

  • The text on the saddle, “Champion Team-Roper, Reno-Nevada, 1985,” is located smack in the middle of the painting and it introduces a person you don’t see—the champion team-roper. Ask students: If someone were to find your backpack or sit down at your desk, what items would tell them a little something about you? Design a button for your backpack that conveys an interesting fact about yourself or something you’re proud of.
  • Have students experiment with cropping images and looking for interesting details. Ask them to look through magazines for an image that appeals to them and crop a section of the image that they feel tells a story. Once they have chosen a detail, have them cut it out and glue it to a white piece of paper. Then, have students trade images with a classmate. Using the detail their partner chose to crop as a starting point, have students draw on the white paper around the image to finish the composition. Tell them to think about the story that is being told. When the students are finished, have them give the drawings back to the person who originally cropped the detail. Do the stories match up? Are they different? What details gave students clues about the stories being told?
  • Coen creates rich, sophisticated colors by strategically layering various colors of paint. “If you want to paint, say, a brown area, you shouldn’t ever use brown paint but colors that, mixed together, will give you brown,” he says. Have students experiment with creating different colors by layering paint. Then, have them create a painting of a night sky (or something else that we would normally think of as being black) without using the color black.
  • Eye-Catching Compositions
    Lesson Plan

    Eye-Catching Compositions

    Elementary (grades K-5)
    One 50 minute lesson

    Students will view and discuss Yellow Rain Jacket, paying particular attention to the artist’s choice of content and composition. They will learn about composition by creating a frame and choosing areas of an image that they wish to emphasize.

    More
  • Concepts of Cropping
    Lesson Plan

    Concepts of Cropping

    Secondary (grades 6-12)
    One 55 minute lesson

    Students will look at Donald Coen’s painting Yellow Rain Jacket and discuss the compositional technique he used. Students will then choose a photograph that interests them, crop intriguing sections, and paint the cropped image, emulating Coen’s process.

    More
  • Completely Crazy Creatures
    Lesson Plan

    Completely Crazy Creatures

    Early childhood (ages 3-5)
    One 25 minute lesson

    After observing Donald Coen’s painting Yellow Rain Jacket, students will draw in missing parts of the horse on a printed copy of the painting. Students will also add parts of other animals to the original image to create imaginative animal hybrids.

    More
  • Group Poem
    Lesson Plan

    Group Poem

    Secondary (grades 6-12)
    One 50 minute lesson

    Students will use this painting as primary source material to inspire secondary language arts skills. After analyzing the painting, they will write their observations in the form of a free write and turn some of their words into a group-generated poem.

    More
  • Possible Perspectives
    Lesson Plan

    Possible Perspectives

    Elementary (grades K-5)
    One 55 minute lesson

    Students will look at and discuss Coen’s painting Yellow Rain Jacket and write stories from the perspective of either the horse or the champion rider, exploring how the same details can be communicated differently.

    More
  • The More Things Change, The More they Stay the Same
    Lesson Plan

    The More Things Change, The More they Stay the Same

    Early childhood (ages 3-5)
    One 25 minute lesson

    Students compare Garry Winogrand’s photograph Los Angeles to a photo from today, focusing on how things have stayed the same and how they have changed over time.

    More
  • Group Poem
    Lesson Plan

    Group Poem

    Secondary (grades 6-12)
    One 50 minute lesson

    Students will use this painting as primary source material to inspire secondary language arts skills. After analyzing the painting, they will write their observations in the form of a free write and turn some of their words into a group-generated poem.

    More
  • Writings from a Room with No View
    Lesson Plan

    Writings from a Room with No View

    Secondary (grades 6-12)
    One 50 minute lesson

    After a careful examination of the painting Poppies, students will use it as a backdrop for a creative writing activity.

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Dan Coen speaks about being a contemporary western painter and his work Yellow Rain Jacket.

Dan Ostermiller talks about how he first sculpts maquettes in order to capture an idea.

Don Coen talks about the importance of being able to concentrate on the artwork in front of you.

Don Coen talks about trying to show what rural America is really like through his artwork.

Don Coen talks about never imagining himself as anything other than an artist.

Funding for object education resources provided by a grant from the Morgridge Family Foundation. Additional funding provided by the William Randolph Hearst Endowment for Education Programs, and Xcel Energy Foundation. We thank our colleagues at the University of Denver Morgridge College of Education.

The images on this page are intended for classroom use only and may not be reproduced for other reasons without the permission of the Denver Art Museum. This object may not currently be on display at the museum.