By Carly Proulx

There’s a saying for writers I know well. It goes, “write what you know.” For painting, specifically for a painter like Robert Coppen, this very sentiment applies. Growing up in Central NY, the self-taught landscape painter became immersed in nature early on, and through the outdoor adventures he and his father embarked upon, he’d grow to love the land surrounding him. This love would eventually rouse Coppen’s devotion to capturing it immortal, ensuring the beauty of the land could live on outside of all those adventures.

Though Coppen would become well-traveled throughout the country, he chose to paint the local watering holes that he called home. The views above Canal Place in Little Falls, NY, the grass where cows grazed along the Unadilla River, streams, and corridors in and near the Adirondack mountainside, these were all places that had bearing in Coppen’s childhood. These places were his teachers, inviting Coppen and encouraging him to keep coming back for visits long after his practice had given him an array of technical skills. Coppen’s paintings show us that the artist’s study is ongoing, much, in the same way, the land surrounding us is unyielding in its revival after years and years of our gray, harsh winters here. Coppen’s father was also an artist and painted for the joy it brought him. The father and son duo went canoeing, camping, hiking, fishing, and eventually, after the two would retire hunting they went on to explore the hobby of birding. Today, Coppen is primarily a regionalist painter, painting specific scenes known to upstate NY. However, he’s not 100% devout to this state, as there remains the occasional landscape painting based in Vermont, Maine, Oregon, and Cape Cod, Ma.

On the rare occasion, Coppen works with oils and alkyds, but a majority of his work is either acrylic, pastel, or watercolor. His paintings are both a reflection of his adoration of nature and the effect of his father’s influence through the exposure and experience he provided his son via the great outdoors, a culture that would permeate Coppen’s being, forever tying him to the land. Primarily, Coppen’s work is symbolic of his appreciation for the beauty existing in the many landscapes this region has to offer. He began his art journey the way many a great painter has before, taking the plunge with pencil in hand, simply sketching what was around them. Starting out, one of Coppen’s main inspirations were the animals created by wildlife artists such as Bob Kuhn, Francis Lee Jacques, and Don R. Eckleberry in which he discovered in his grandfather’s old Field and Stream magazines, as well his grandmother’s National Wildlife magazines.

Coppen is undeniably inspired by the greats that came before him. His work may bring to mind a few famous artists with whose works we’re all familiar, yet these paintings are distinctively his own. Coppen has an impressive portfolio of which you can peruse at Among several of the famous artists that set the bar for Coppen are Charles Burchfield, for his flair for nature mysticism, Winslow Homer, for his technical abilities in both watercolor and oils, Rockwell Kent, for his ethereal portrayal of nature, John Constable, for his devotion to painting landscapes only of the Suffolk countryside, and further the works of Andrew Wyeth, Edward Hopper, and Van Gogh. Lastly, the late wildlife artist Bob Kuhn must not be overlooked. Though Coppen has been focused on landscapes since his late 20’s, his early artwork consisted of drawings and sketches of wildlife. An ex-farmhand and retired factory worker, Coppen confesses to spending just as much time chasing the land he paints as he does painting it. Whether it be driving, walking, or canoeing Coppen is ever hunting his next landscape prey.

In 1987 in their Golden Anniversary Competition, American Artist Magazine featured Coppen’s acrylic painting The Unadilla River: View from Mt. Markham #2. Chosen from 14,000 entries to be part of a 68-piece exhibit, the painting was later purchased by the Munson-Williams-Proctor Art Museum in Utica for their Member’s Gallery. As part of the annual Arts for the Parks competition in 1992, Coppen’s pastel painting titled Of Sea and Sand and Sky was chosen from 2,000 entries by National Park Academy of the Arts to be part of a 200-piece exhibit in Jackson Hole, WY. Open to artists internationally in 2014, Coppen’s acrylic painting The Weir at Oaks Creek Crossing made the finals of the landscape category in the Artist’s Magazine annual art competition, and again in their 2017 annual art competition, Coppen’s acrylic, October Birches made the finals in the same category. It is worth noting Coppen had a lot of fun entering the Federal Duck Stamp competition and placed 147 out of 270 in 2008.

Whether Coppen remains infamous in his career or not, his artist resolve is strengthened, as well his passion for conveying the world’s natural beauty rekindled with each new canvas. “What I’m trying to do with my work, regardless of medium used is to make the ordinary look extraordinary. The medium isn’t the message, the land is.” Surely, his fondness for the places in which he first discovered the world’s natural beauty is not soon to wane. Coppen wants to show people what we so often fail to see, that we need look no farther than our backyards to see greener grass, interesting sites, and spectacular beauty. And that’s exactly what his paintings have achieved. Beyond a doubt, Coppen’s expressions of nature and local landscapes will hit home, never mind if you’re a stranger in this land.

Come to the opening reception from 2-4 pm on Saturday, 3/25, at the Mohawk Valley Center for the Arts to meet the artist and see Coppen’s solo show “In Your Own Backyard.” This extensive display of landscape paintings will be yours to view in the gallery from 3/25-4/29 and don’t forget to check out Coppen’s other works for sale in the MVCA shop, the Selective Eye.