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Local artist will have his first solo show

Coleman Gibbs views his painting of the Challenger takeoff in memory of the explosion that took the lives of the astronauts, named a Fayette County Free Fair best of show. Gibbs will have 42 works on display in the Whitewater Valley Arts Association gallery beginning Friday evening.

By DARRELL SMITH - dsmith@newsexaminer.com

An artist who has received several champion and best of show honors will have his works on display Friday when the new exhibition opens at the Whitewater Valley Arts Association gallery.

Coleman Gibbs has been painting since late in his Connersville High School days.

While talking with him for this article, he began pointing to pictures on the gallery’s walls, indicating they had been named best of show several times at the Fayette County Free Fair.

A picture of a popcorn stand won an Indiana State Fair Theme Award.

“The theme of the state fair that year was ‘The year of popcorn,’ and that won. Out of all the paintings in all the building, they selected one as the Fair Theme Award and I won,” he said.

He took first place at the State Fair in 2016 with a painting for the Indiana Bicentennial.

“I started in like 1976 so I’ve been doing it 43 years but actually started doing it before that,” he said. “I started getting serious about it in ‘76 and ‘77 when I graduated high school. It was a God-given gift. I didn’t take any art in school.”

The earliest painting in the show is from 1977, an oil painting of a barn and old water hand pump.

“I was just kind of bored and sat down, and I’ve always had the ability to draw but never really thought about painting until someone mentioned ‘You should take your stuff to the county fair,’” Gibbs recalled. “That sparked my interest and I started doing that and one thing led to another. All these years later, here I am.”

He started with oil and then moved to watercolors and acrylic as well as pen and ink. The old adage is that someone must draw before they can paint but he said for him, the painting came first.

“I don’t (have a favorite),” he said. “Each one has its own challenge. Watercolor is the toughest ... you really can’t make mistakes and it’s much harder to cover up. Acrylics are probably the easiest and easy to fix mistakes. Oil is a little tougher because oil doesn’t dry as quickly.”

He said “Misty Morning Walk” may be his favorite in the show. It has won in three different shows. “Challenger” is also one he likes.

“I like painting people from behind,” Gibbs said. “I love to do people but doing their faces, you have to get them perfect. I don’t want to hurt their feelings.”

He does have a painting of his two sons on the beach, showing their faces, with a lighthouse in the background. It’s called “Little Sable Point” in Michigan.

“That one, I stretched the canvas, made the frame and I painted the painting,” he pointed to another. “That’s the complete package. I do that often.”

A game teachers may try with young students is, “Which one doesn’t belong?”

Gibbs has his own version with a large abstract painting in the show.

Several years after high school, he went to the Purdue University program in Richmond and earned a degree in arts and sciences. He has worked as an automotive engineer for 33 years.

His art professor, Tom Thomas, did abstracts and did them well so he did a few, he said.

A painting of Ground Zero in New York City is one he painted for Butch Bunzendahl. Gibbs and his wife, Bunzendahl and his wife, Robin Beaty and his wife and others went to New York City about 10 years after the fall of the World Trade Center. Bunzendahl, Beaty and John Rowland had gone to the city immediately after the terrorist attack.

“I wanted to do something for those guys,” he said. “I did one for Robin as well, one of a fire engine. That’s my way of saying ‘thank you’ to them. They’re friends but also great Americans because of what they did.”

Perhaps the greatest of honor came from Valeo, where he has worked for many years.

“There was a poster contest in the company for its 90th anniversary,” he said. “There were 333 entries from 29 countries and I won third place. The top poster was used as a poster and the other nine of the top 10 were used for promotion. I’m pretty proud of that.”

This is his first solo show. Opening night is 6-8 p.m. Friday at the WVAA gallery, 402 Central Ave., and his work will be on display until Nov. 1.