Adventures of a Coyote

Article excerpt

Successful for his wildly imaginative paintings in the "Coyote Series," Markus Pierson is a testament to survival, triumph and the power of canines

Coyotes in suits. Coyotes in tutus. Coyotes in jailbird gear. Sound like the stuff of fantasy? Well, maybe. But leave it to artist Markus Pierson to bring these furry canine creatures closer to reality through humorous, striking and thought-provoking paintings. Painted with the eye of a master, Pierson's vibrant and often satirical works both lift the spirit and test one's beliefs. In the process, his coyotes have captured the hearts and imaginations of viewers across the board and sell for tens of thousands of dollars. And that's no fairy tale.

But Pierson's foray into the arts is the stuff of fairy tales--no demons or dragons, but a simple twist of fate and a second chance. Attracted to art at a young age, Pierson nevertheless went to school for accounting. "I grew up in a small town in Michigan, and there, being an artist seemed an impossible dream," he explained over the phone from his Kansas City loft where he lives with his wife and fellow artist Sheryl and their dog Henry. "I wasn't the most talented person around, so it seemed even more unrealistic ... it wasn't something you actually announced."

Still, Pierson would come home every evening from the office and sit down at the table and draw. His passion for the arts was undeniable. But it wasn't until 1984 when he was stricken with the incurable Chrone's disease that Pierson made the life-changing decision to become a full-time artist. "I was a worrier at the time, but when I woke up in the hospital and I wasn't dead, I just realized, very dearly, that I would never worry again ... I called up my mom and asked her to round up my art supplies, because I was going to be a famous artist. It may have sounded like the rantings of a lunatic, but I just knew it would happen."

And indeed it did. In 1986, about a year and half after his surgery, Pierson discovered his muse which would launch his career out of the woods of Michigan and into the limelight at galleries nationwide. His muse, of course, was a coyote.

A Song, a Dog, and a Whole Lot of Paint

The road to finding his muse, however, was not an easy one. The inspiration for Pierson's "Coyote Series" came at a time when the artist was feeling down on his luck. "My girl had left me, my dog had run away and I had no money," recalled Pierson. "And I was also living in a decrepit single room apartment in Jackson, Mich., which at the time was voted the worst place to live in America."

Painting billboards by day, Pierson was barely making ends meet. Then 26, he survived through the generosity of others, and his dream of becoming a famous artist seemed worlds away. To lift his spirits, a friend gave Pierson a tape containing the song "Coyote" by Joni Mitchell. That song immediately struck a chord with Pierson.

"It's written in a very ambiguous way, where you can't decipher if she's actually writing about a coyote or a man that she's nicknamed coyote," he said. …