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By the Way: Frenchtown painter’s lunar fascination on full display

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We’ve learned so much about the moon since Neil Armstrong first set foot on it in 1969 but its mysterious attraction is still very real.

Scientific exploration has painted it as a not very welcoming place, a mere pit stop on the way to the planets. It’s sandy and cold with mountains, valleys and craters formed by flying space rocks — a celestial desert with no trace of green cheese.

And yet this arid globe that has for eons fascinated both poets and scientists continues to draw many of us to our windows when the sky darkens. I am one.

I was especially excited to see the full moon, which was undeniably pink during June’s first weekend. The Lenape called it the strawberry moon and it continues to shine each June on our fields of glistening berries set like jewels in their dark green foliage.

The full moon, whether pink or not, in the dark skies is a majestic sight and a powerful one, considering its rhythmic pull on the tides, its effects on the female body, other human and animal sensitivities and its guide for planting crops. Even acknowledging the truth about its surface doesn’t diminish its magic for me.

And it certainly has not diminished its draw for my friend, artist and musician Joe Coco, who, turning to the heavens for inspiration, has been painting the full moon for 50 years. Not only does he share nature’s beauty with his paintings, but he also teaches art in an especially dynamic way.

Joe, who lives in Frenchtown N.J., with his wife, Anne, is a professor at Centenary University in New Jersey. His work is exhibited at many major art museums including MOMA & DeYoung in San Francisco, the Guggenheim in New York, Philadelphia Museum of Art and at Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial in Japan.

Early last month I went to the 50th anniversary celebration of Joe’s Full Moon Series. Sixty-two of his paintings and drawings cover the walls of the Brig O’Doon Coffee House in Ottsville. They represent about half of the entire series which he has painted in New Jersey, New York, Arizona, Portugal and Italy. He has had 108 solo exhibits in Europe and the United States.

Joe has painted the last full moons of every year since 1972. He started his series in December that year on the day the full moon rose. Since 2000, he has included paintings of the January full moon with an image portraying what he believes the new year will look like.

The series shows his fascination with astronomy, astrology, mythology, geography and autobiography. This is believed to be the first-ever series dedicated to the study of the moon by a single artist.

It’s not just a collection of paintings of yellow balls in the night sky, it’s a record of emotions and happenings sustained by the regular and predictable return of the moon, while still revealing what’s going on in the artist’s mind.

To think about Joe is to think energy. During his Brig O’Doon presentation, he hopped from painting to painting, explaining to locals and tourists with a great flow of words the challenges and pleasures of his work. As a person he is an interesting mix of Old World formality and American enthusiasm. The series is accompanied by a CD of 13 instrumentals composed for the series as well as a second CD of songs from Coco albums inspired by the moon. His new book, “I Paint the Moon,” is available from Print-on-Demand lulu.com.

Kathryn Finegan Clark is a freelance writer who lives in Durham Township. She can be reached at kathyclark817@gmail.com.


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