by Jon Cronshaw
Scunthorpe-based artist Lee Coleman has channelled his responses to his challenging day job into his work. Jon Cronshaw spoke to him.
Best known for his trademark character Mr Faceless, Lee Coleman’s latest exhibition at Art's Cafe, Leeds, is a fascinating one man show that displays a thought-provoking series of images.
But the Scunthorpe-based artist also earns his living as a full-time paramedic – and it was after a traumatic event on the job that he came up with the idea of Mr Faceless.
“I had to give a lady the unfortunate news one day that I couldn’t revive her husband – and obviously that news is very devastating. It’s a powerful emotion that people go through when dealing with a loss like that,” says Coleman.
“I wondered if I could get that level of emotion onto a sheet of paper without showing a facial expression – could you express it with body language and location?
“And that’s where the idea of Mr Faceless came in.
"I came home and started doodling, and asked myself if I could do it – if I could start using emotional settings and scenarios," he says.
"It’s amazing that something so unfortunate for a patient has blossomed into something visual. Mr Faceless is part of me really.”
Although Coleman was not formally trained at an art college or university, he honed his craft for over 20 years by producing caricatures for family and friends.
He grew tired of this, and gave up on drawing until he felt that he had something meaningful to say.
“If you have a passion for something artistic, whether it’s cooking, music, art, or whatever it is, you eventually evolve and grow and start to challenge yourself – it’s been more organic than anything,” he says.
Once he opened himself up to dealing with emotional subjects and drawing on his working life, Coleman became more than a caricaturist – he became an artist.
“Being a paramedic, we see such an array of colourful characters and scenarios that you can’t help but absorb it really," says Coleman.
"As an artist, a lot of your work ends up being autobiographical because it’s part of your soul. A lot of the things I experience can sneak their way in without you really knowing it sometimes.
“I want people to go away and think about what they’ve seen. I really want people to be affected by it. I want it to stop people in their tracks and think ‘bloomin’ heck, that really makes me think’. That’s all that matters to me.”
Coleman explained that having an outlet for expression has been necessary for dealing with difficulties he faces on a day-to-day basis.
“Like any job, you have good and bad days, but my bad day is unfortunately that somebody might have lost their life in quite a traumatic way – and that does affect you," says Coleman.
"So when you come home, it’s good to be able to channel that energy – I don’t drink, I don’t smoke – I play guitar, or I produce artwork.
“It’s definitely therapeutic – it’s an emotionally lifting experience when you produce artworks out of something that’s quite awful.”
Coleman has worked for East Midlands Ambulance Service for over a decade and a state registered paramedic for almost seven years. However, he has no intention of giving up the day job to become a full-time artist.
“It’s the best job in the world – it’s very challenging and very rewarding," says Coleman.
"It can break your heart but it can make you smile.”
Have you been to the exhibition? What do you think? Leave comments below.
Lee Coleman's work is currently on display at Art's Cafe, Leeds.