Feature Artist: Josh Coté of Coté Fine Art
By Frances Figart
Josh Coté once sold a monkey sculpture in Winter Park, Florida, helped the buyer load it into a brand new Ferrari, and soon the monkey was flying on a private jet to Africa to be a gift for Richard Branson. (The monkey sculpture had its own seat on the plane.)
Coté, a self-taught sculptor, likes to joke that he was ‘raised by gypsies.’ But, in a sense, it’s true. He grew up ‘on the road’ in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, going to art festivals along the East Coast with his family.
“My brother (now a psychiatrist) and I, my mom and dad and a white German shepherd would all get in this old Land Rover and we would do shows from Florida to Michigan,” he recalls. “My grandparents were both oil painters, my father was an artist—I’ve wanted to be an artist since I can remember.”
Growing up before the advent of electronic games, young Josh was told, when bored, to go draw, or paint, or read. He found inspiration in authors like Lewis Carroll, H.G. Wells and Dr. Seuss, which drew him into what he calls “a magical dream world that my art soon began to reflect. I haven’t really lost this fascination with the innocent, a whimsical child’s vision where toys come to life and anything is possible.”
Most of his stuffed animals were rabbits, his favorite an imaginary moleskin friend who ‘painted’ with him. “I am inspired by the nostalgia of childhood,” he says, and “I am still retrieving my lost bunnies.”
He’s retrieving them on a grand scale, through works of wire that, as he describes them, “bridge both linear drawing and sculpture, the two and three dimensions.” These intricate forms, some as tall as 13 feet, incorporate recycled aluminum, recycled copper and steel wire. Using only needle-nosed pliers and some innovative techniques he has developed, the wire is painstakingly manipulated, wrapped and woven to create the desired structure.
“Using negative space combined with the linear nature of the wire,” he says, “the finished work is much like a pen-and-ink drawing in sculptural form. The manipulated wire captures the energy and life of the subject. There is movement and mystery.”
Constantly obsessed with his art and admittedly working too much, Coté sees wire sculpture as a “bare and honest medium” in which “nothing is hidden, all is revealed to the beholder.” He gets inspiration from dreams or when, “driving down an empty highway at night, ideas drift down and settle in somehow.” Complex works begin with sketches: “Often I ‘draw’ with the wire itself, in 3-D. It is a flexible pen-and-ink line, like a gesture drawing.”
Coté is impressed with “epic works of art—ancient stone carvings, super-detailed paintings like Hieronymus Bosch, or Ivan Albright, even Joe Coleman—art that took months or years, where you can visually see that the artist suffered to get to this point, to create the work.”
He credits Pam Coté, his wife of 16 years, with inspiring him to surrender to the desire to be an artist full time. “She convinced me to live my dream, do what I had always talked about. She is the genius behind the curtain,” he says. Pam handles the business end of Coté Fine Art.
Asked what he feels when making his pieces, Coté replies: “Chaos, tension, joy, frustration, at peace and insane. You have to be a manic, frantic person to work in wire, yet patient.”
Some sculptures take months and miles of wire to complete! One of the greatest rewards for all this hard work, Coté says, is when “people who have looked at art all their lives say they have never seen anything like this. Some of the sculptures have humor, and it is a reward to hear the joyful reactions.”
Works by Josh Coté are carried in the American Folk Art Museum in New York, Artemisia in Chicago, and Roots Up Gallery in Savannah. Throughout October, Coté has his first-ever solo show, Wild Hares and Other Phantasmagoria, at the Grovewood Gallery, with an opening reception on Saturday, October 1, from 3–6 p.m. at which viewers can meet the artist. Coté Fine Art is based in the community of Loafer’s Glory near Bakersville. Learn more at cotefineart.com, by calling 828.208.1781 or by following Coté Fine Sculpture on Facebook.