ArtsVisual Arts

Steve Coffey captures the mystery of fallen musical stars in new train-based art exhibit

To be honest, it was kind of a setup and, yes, a pretty dickish move.

But, well, we must amuse ourselves sometimes, mustn’t we.

So when the server at an Inglewood local notices the art book sitting on the table, asks if it’s from The Collectors’ Gallery in the neighbourhood, and enquires if we know the artist, the only real response there can be is, “Yes. And he’s an asshole.”

Empowered by that, the woman wrinkled up her nose and offered her very honest opinion about not liking train paintings, not liking these paintings. Perhaps it was the reaction — hearty laughs — that caused her to then ask if one of us was the artist.

“Yes,” says Steve Coffey. “I am.”

So, yeah, who’s got two thumbs and likes to make dick moves? This guy!

Coffey, though, after the soft back-pedalling (“just not my cup of tea”) and the arrival of a pair of Guinness (Guinnai?) takes it all in good humour and in the stride of an established and acclaimed artist who’s been at it for the past 20-plus years.

“I’d get nervous if everyone liked it, because it’s safe,” he says.

That said, he does admit to being slightly nervous about the launch of the book Fallen Star Cars featuring 84 original pieces, and the accompanying exhibit of 42 of the original oil paintings called Southbound Train, which will run from Nov. 18 to Dec. 13 at The Collectors’. (A second exhibit of the remaining half, dubbed Northbound Train, will take place in Edmonton in February.)

The Vulcan-based Coffey, also a musician, calls the collection something of a “side-project.” It is a step outside of his normal landscape- and skyscape-based work, that captures much of the scenery of Southern Alberta in a beautiful, small, yet sweeping manner.

“I’m not afraid to say it, you need a palette cleaner sometimes,” he says.

The project is, yes, train themed, with the book split into Fallen Star Cars and Storage Cars, with there may or may not being a link between one work in each group. That’s for the viewer to discover and engage with — Coffey ain’t saying.

“I’ve always thought of trains — not that she fucking cares,” he chuckles, nodding in the server’s direction, “but I’ve always thought of trains as a mystery … I was always mesmerized by them.”

He wanted to carry along that mystery with this collection.

That said, each work has enough clues inside of it that it should be easy to discover that each of the “Cars” is dedicated to an important musician who has passed away over the years, with such notable names as Leonard Cohen, Patsy Cline, Prince, Hank Williams, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Townes Van Zandt, Amy Winehouse, Buddy Holly, David Bowie and Kurt Cobain.

He says it actually grew out of his last book and exhibit Paint Songs, which also featured an accompanying musical element, a new album of work by he and his longtime roots band The Lokels to give sound to the visuals, to connect the two passions and mediums in a more substantial way.

(Side note and non-dick move: Steve Coffey and The Lokels will be performing Friday, Nov. 17 at Mikey’s Juke Joint.)

“I did the exact same thing in many ways, but just didn’t include an album — it’s music related,” he says of Star Cars. “It still jumps that little bridge that I’ve always been interested in. In many way ways the artists that I’m identifying loosely are people that I listened to, had some influence on my life somehow.”

Was he listening to them while he was painting?

“No. Fuck no. That’s way too fucking hacky. I mean I’m hacky, according to her,” he says laughing once more, “but not that hacky.”

Again, he reiterates that he’s slightly nervous about how the work will be viewed, especially by the audience that he’s cultivated over the years with his more pastoral, less theme-based work.

“Is it a risk or is it just progression?” he asks.

That said, Coffey notes that he just completed a huge landscape piece the other day, “so I’m back to doing the stuff that inspires me — my surroundings.”

As for the side-project, he’ll get more feedback with Saturday’s launch and when the book is available for purchase at the beginning of December.

“If people dig it, well great,” he says.

If not, maybe be a little cautious. You never know who you’re talking to or the asshole who’s sitting with them.

Steve Coffey’s Fallen Star Cars will be available Dec. 1 from select galleries, book stores and from He will be having an opening reception for the 42-piece exhibit titled Southbound Train at The Collectors’ Gallery Saturday, Nov. 18 from noon to 4 p.m. and the exhibit will be on display until Dec. 13.

Mike Bell has been covering the Calgary music scene for the past 25 years with publications such as VOX, Fast Forward, the Calgary Sun and, most recently, the Calgary Herald. He is currently the music writer and content editor for Follow him on Twitter/@mrbell_23 or email him at