Friday, August 17, 2007

Lee Brown Coye

Click here to download a 2 megabyte collection of 20 some works by the artist.

An American artist who lived from 1907 through 1981, Coye was best known for his black and white illustrations used for pulp magazines and horror fiction.

"Lee Brown Coye was one of art's "almost men"--not a loser, but never quite a winner. Bad luck haunted much of his career. He began his life as an artist on the eve of the Great Depression and was forced to labor as a malcontented advertising agency art director through much of the 1930s. Coye was ready to make a breakthrough when he began to appear in the Whitney Museum's annual exhibitions and had a watercolor bought by the Metropolitan Museum for its permanent collection--then Pearl Harbor was attacked.

The arrival of abstractionists fleeing war-torn Europe forced American artists working in a realistic style, like Coye, to the periphery of the art world. While Coye dabbled in abstract paintings, and later worked as a medical artist and cartoonist, he always considered himself primary an illustrator. In periodicals such as Weird Tales and Amazing Stories, Coye's uniquely macabre and original art found the perfect home. Illustrating horror stories matched Coye's anatomy lessons with his macabre sensibilities. At this time his studios were gothic abodes filled with skeletons, dead animals, live rats, and human body parts from a medical college - all models for his art. Some of his best work was done for pulp magazines and Arkham House works by H.P. Lovecraft.

In author Luis Ortiz' words, "Coye was an art machine and an American Original. As a child he was considered a 'holy terror'. As an adult, after a hard day of doing medical illustrations, he thought nothing of walking into a bar carrying a decapitated human head under his arm, placing it on the counter and buying his guillotined 'friend' a drink. On another occasion he 'borrowed' the finger-bone of a saint (a holy relic he was building a reliquary for) from the Catholic Church in his hometown of Syracuse, New York. The Syracuse diocese was beside itself and had to send clergy to perform a blessing on Coye's studio since the relic could only travel to holy places."

Ortiz adds, "Coye's horror illustrations are not like anything done before-or since. You would have to go back to Goya's black paintings to find anything comparable. Yet despite the darkness, Coye's art was always filled with traces of humor."

Parts of The Blair Witch Project film may have been based on a true life incident that occurred to Coye as a young man when he discovered a strange, isolated farmhouse in the backwoods of upstate New York. The house was surrounded by bizarre constructs of lashed-together sticks and had an unusual tenant. The unexplained display seemed to allude to some dark nature, and stayed with Coye the rest of his life. Later on, sticks would become a recurring motif in his illustrations. Horror writer Karl Wagner transmogrified the incident into an award winning story, "Sticks", which may have influenced the makers of Blair Witch." - quote source.

Read more about Lee Brown Coye's life at this Wikipedia article.

A collection of lost Coye illustrations will be featured in the limited edition "Knickerbocker Tales Portfolio" from Nonstop Press this fall.

A fantastic book from Nonstop Press collecting over 350 works by Coye titled "Arts Uknown: The Life and Art of Lee Brown Coye" is available at

Many thanks to Jerad of Centipede Press for providing the PDF file of Lee Brown Coye artwork linked to above.


Luke Pski said...

Man, this guy almost crosses that border into really real horror, if you know what I mean.

Li-An said...

You could speak about the story of the house with the strange wooden constructions. The book is a bit deceiving: a better presentation of the art would be nice in my opinion.

John said...

this is tremendous - thank you so much!