With 12 cloned charcoal drawings of a life-size sheep lining the upstairs Laguna Art Museum gallery, it looks as if artist and pastor Brad Coleman is paying homage to multiplying his flock.
It just might be. After all, as the 21-year pastor of the Church by the Sea on Legion Avenue, he’s well-versed in shepherding his flock. And, as the father of twins, he knows more than he ever imagined about multiplying.
With all that groundwork laid, this last Sunday Coleman surprised his 400-member Christian congregation by announcing that he and his family will move in early July to help guide another flock at Christ Church in Lake Forest, Ill., where his wife’s parents live, and nearer to his parents in Michigan.
According to parishioners, Coleman’s a multi-talented act that’s going to be hard to follow.
During his two decades in the pulpit, he and his congregants shared many emotional moments and, in turn, Coleman found artistic inspiration. Coleman, 49, and his wife Margy, 50, a graphics artist and teacher, went through 10 years of fertility tests and procedures, finally giving birth to twin girls, Adeline and Elinor, on 05-05-05. “The congregation walked through that intensely emotional process with us,” Coleman recalled. “We were in the thick of working with a fertility doctor. We were immersed in ideas of biological reproduction when this image came to me of identical drawings of sheep.” Coleman worked on multiplying his flock of 12 sheep for 12 years.
“The idea of doing the same drawing is this disciplined act that is a little bit ludicrous,” he conceded. “It’s certainly not necessary. I could have done this in one day at Kinko’s.”
At first glance, each sheep, painstakingly drawn in lifelike detail, appears to be one Dolly after another. But, looking closer, subtle differences begin to emerge. “When you walk into the gallery, it does appear that there are 12 identical drawings,” Coleman said. “Even if you’re trying to replicate them exactly, they’re very different. It’s about the hand of the artist.” Similar but not identical, perhaps a little like his twin daughters, perhaps like us all.
He said there’s subtle spiritual meaning to his flock and its numerology as well. Sheep are a metaphor for the church in the New Testament and there were 12 tribes of Israel and 12 disciples. That his drawings are finally completed and on exhibit at the same time he announced his departure is a coincidence, but “it’s kind of a nice note to leave on,” he said.
He’s known in and out of the pulpit as a one-man band and an impromptu pundit. Coleman plays the guitar with a tambourine on his foot and a harmonica strapped around his neck. “He does it all the time,” said Vicki High, a long-time friend and church member. “I mean, like second nature. And he’s a huge Bob Dylan fan.”
As the king of puns, he throws in a big dose of compassion. “He’s not goofy, he’s witty,” High said. “Puns just roll off his tongue. And he’s just very kind. He has the special ability of looking at things from the other person’s point of view.”
Coleman was raised in Bryan, Ohio, as all of his parishioners are well-aware. As the pastor’s art reflects his pastoral childhood, so do his sermons. “I used to include a story about my hometown in every sermon until my girls were born,” Coleman said. “Now my girls have kind of replaced that.”
As long as he’s been preaching, Coleman has also taught drawing and painting at Laguna College of Art and Design. Jonathan Burke, LCAD’s dean of fine arts, describes Coleman as effective with students as he is with parishioners. “He’s emphatic, knowledgeable with the right balance of structure and flexibility, and he’s just a smart guy. He can do a whole lot,” he said.
As well as showing students how to preserve the depth of three-dimensional reality on two-dimensional surfaces, “Brad brings passion and sensuousness into art with the goals of originality and beauty,” Burke added.
And Coleman sees that originality, beauty and depth expressed in his three-dimensional churchgoers. “The congregation at Church by the Sea is this remarkable, diverse, living organism,” he explained. “I describe them as people who have an intent heart to serve.”
But are they sheep? “Most people think sheep are kind of dumb and defenseless, right? But I think the reason the scriptures describe the church as sheep is to describe the care of the shepherd and the act of following and trusting in the shepherd and that dependence on his guidance.”
According to his spiritual and artistic students, this is one shepherd who his following will find difficult to clone.