Don Coen's Larger-Than-Life Portraits of Migrant Workers Among Spring Shows at BMoCA

  • BOULDER, Colorado
  • /
  • January 28, 2019

  • Email
Don Coen, Miguel (detail), 2001-2010, Airbrush acrylic and pencil on canvas.
courtesy BMoCA

Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art (BMoCA) announced its Spring 2019 Exhibitions: Don Coen: The Migrant Series and Karen Kitchel: Grasslands. Don Coen’s larger-than-life portraits emphasize the pride and humanity of migrant workers – people who are directly connected to the land. Karen Kitchel expresses concern for the changing environment around us through her meticulously rendered grass paintings. These exhibitions are guest curated by Ann Daley.

Don Coen: The Migrant Series Don Coen paints what he knows. He was raised on a ranch near Lamar, Colorado where he was part of every aspect of ranch life, including appreciating the work of migrant workers in the fields nearby. In addition to major paintings illustrating the ranch life of cows, trucks, and animals, in 1990, Coen started traveling to photograph, and to ultimately paint, the hard-working migrants who picked and sorted the crops that become the produce we eat every day. Coen’s dignified realistic portraits are character studies of people connected directly with the land.

Karen Kitchel, Larger Than Life #5 (detail), Oil on panel.
courtesy BMoCA

Coen was first drawn to workers around Greeley in a field ripe with vegetables. This experience sparked The Migrant Series, and it is now a project of nearly twenty years. His large-scale painting technique stems from his early career as an abstract expressionist painter of large colorful canvases. The paintings in The Migrant Series are achieved by skill with an airbrush that allows him to put down large veils of color. These paintings have nearly 60 layers of transparent airbrush paint, and when you get close to them, they look completely abstract. This abstraction harkens back to Coen’s early painting days, for which he credits Mark Rothko’s large color field paintings as an influence.

Coen has created 15 larger-than-life 8’x10’ scale portraits that emphasize the pride and humanity of the workers; each has a story that is communicated by Coen’s unflinching look at the migrants. “Because I spent my childhood doing the intense manual labor required to run the farm, I have tremendous respect for all the people who work our land,” Coen said.

Don Coen’s work is in private and public collections throughout the West, including: the Denver Art Museum, the Phoenix Museum of Art, the Foxley Company collection, the Whitney Gallery of the Buffalo Bill Museum of Western Art, and the Bodin Art Collection in New York, among many others. In 2019, Coen won Best of Show at the Coors Western Art Exhibit and Sale held in conjunction with the National Western Stock Show for his piece titled “Storm on Jay Road.” He received his BA from the University of Denver and his MFA from the University of Northern Colorado.

Karen Kitchel: Grasslands Known for her sensitive and meticulously rendered paintings, Karen Kitchel challenges herself to express her concern for the environment by painting grasses in a variety of sizes. Her work in this exhibition ranges from small 12” x 12” paintings to large 62” x 21” paintings. Grass appears to be the subject of Kitchel’s work, but the real focus is concern for the changes taking place in the world around us and our relationship to it.

In her on-going work with grasses, Kitchel creates images of endangered species and commonly found weeds and invasives in the Rocky Mountain West. Kitchel brings attention to these complexities by capturing our interest with beautiful, exquisite compositions. A depth of field is produced by her technique of painting layer over layer in oil.
“The cropped, sharply focused images embody the seductive physicality of oil paint, but reject conventions of horizon line, panoramas, or grandiose scale,” Kitchel has said. The figurative scale of the three works in the vertical Terra Incognita series directly reflects the height and width of the artist, placing her in the center of the inquiry.

A native of Michigan, Karen Kitchel lived in Montana and Colorado while collecting grasses. She now paints in Ventura, California. Her work is in numerous permanent collections, including: the Denver Art Museum, Palm Springs Art Museum, Tucson Museum of Art, United States Department of State Embassies Program, the Joslyn Art Museum, and the Whitney Gallery at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center. She received her BA from Kalamazoo College and MFA from Claremont Graduate University.

Guest Curator Ann Daley has been active in the Denver art community since 1977 when she was hired by the Denver Art Museum to be Curator of American Art. She was Associate Curator of the Petrie Institute of Western American Art from 1997 to 2008, and has been curator of the Captiva Resources collection since 1985. Daley was the first curator of the Coors Western Art Exhibit and Sale at the National Western Stock Show, and has remained on its board of advisors. She was a member of the Commission on Arts and Venues for six years. Daley is the author of Landscapes of Colorado, and various other publications. She received her BA in American Studies from the University of Wyoming and her MA in Art History from University of Denver.

More details on Exhibition Programs available at

  • Email

Related Press Releases