He conducted much of his career as though a cheetah was at his heels.
“You’re always afraid of not being able to pay your bills—at least when you come out of the Depression like I did,” says Guy Coheleach, an 85-year-old Stuart resident.
But Coheleach never let fear dissuade him, not even during one of his numerous visits to Africa when an elephant chased after him in Zambia. The husband, father of three and grandfather of seven—whose paintings of lions, leopards, wolves and other wildlife bear the lifelike-ness of photography—reflects on the discovery of his talent, a recent whale of an encounter and the importance of putting family before career.
You’re known for your paintings, but did you do photography, too?
I used to do a ton of photography, and I used to sell my photography, but I’m just too impatient to keep up with two things.
Why do you choose wildlife as your subjects?
I was always interested in animals as a kid. I think most children are. Then we grow up and we get distracted by pretty girls and high school and cars and making money and paying bills—well, I guess I never grew up. I got distracted like everybody else, but I kept my affection for animals.
How did you discover your talent?
I’m one of nine children, and I saw my father work three jobs during the Depression. I don’t want to lay sympathy, but I never heard my parents argue over anything other than money during the Depression. I had a talent for painting. I never thought of making money out of it until I got a scholarship. Cooper Union was in the homeless section of New York. If you could get in, it was free. I started in engineering and architecture, but when I found out how much homework they had, I became an artist.
How do you choose your subject matter?
I’m excited about wildlife and nature. I was in Alaska this June. We went out to see the big whales popping up. They blow bubbles and the bubbles bring up all the baitfish. Then they come up with their mouths open about the size of a small bedroom. Two of these whales came right up underneath the boat. It scares the daylights out of you, but I said, ‘My God, it is amazing.’ I’d love to paint that.
What are you working on right now?
I just started a sailfish.
Was it ever frightening, choosing to make a career as an artist?
Yes, it was intimidating. Most people who put the art first end up with a screwed-up family. That’s one reason I admire Jack Nicklaus so tremendously. When he was at the peak of an incredible career, he still would go home every Friday or Saturday night to see the kids play in a ball tournament. The dividend of family, when you’re older, is being surrounded by all that love. You can’t buy that. I’m not saying everyone should have children. I’m saying they’re a lot of work, but they’re a lot of reward.