Bucks County Herald

Painter-musician visits Del Val High School

Visiting artist Joe Coco of Frenchtown, N.J., enters singing to begin his presentation to sophomore Esther Gehman and other Delaware Valley High School students.

A force of nature named Joe Coco blew into Mrs. Ruppert’s art room at Delaware Valley High School right after lunch on Friday, June 1. He is a painter, musician and teacher. He was the grand finale of the Art Department’s monthly visiting artist series. He lives in Frenchtown.

He sang, he danced, and – despite very nice clothes – crawled on the floor like a cat. “I’m not afraid to be a fool,” he explained. “I had to cultivate that; I used to be shy.”

At age 67, he’s had a lot of cultivation time. When no one would ask a question, he put duct tape over his mouth and beckoned.

Coco played guitar for his opening song, and for his closer (“Hey, Mister Money!”) he slapped the lively beat on his chest, thighs, tables and even a student. (The boy was startled, but unharmed.)

Coco has written more than 700 songs and 58 albums. His next one, part of which will debut on YouTube on June 14, will be titled “World War III Is Here.” He is a provocative person. His music ranges from folk to blues, but doesn’t fall into an easily marketed genre.
He is a painter, too. He has had more than 70 solo exhibitions nationally and internationally.

For more than 40 years, Coco has produced a painting every December and January at the full of the moon.

To illustrate his commitment, he told the painful story behind his painting “Bladder Moon.”

It’s a tale of violent illness that includes emergency urological treatment in the hospital.
Coco’s paintings are surreal and magical, with colors and lighting and people that spring from his imagination. He aims to “bring the dream life into this world,” noting “there is a lot of material” in the unconscious mind.

But that’s not to endorse ignorance. He invoked DaVinci’s Artistic Code, advising students to follow their curiosity. In ceramics go “beyond the squish” and learn about fire. Once the processes have been learned, you can “clear the confusion,” and creativity can flourish.

But that isn’t limited to the traditional media. “The thing about art is: You just gotta find it in you,” he said. Whether you are designing clothes, balancing the books, baking, or programming computers, “you have to find the art in it.”

For Coco, art is the approach, the attitude, the process and the product. And for him, it’s the alchemy that can transform the agony of a medical crisis into the laughter of teenagers.


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