Coker’s Gold: Art Sheds of the Wizard of Perry South

large metal shed painted in elaborate abstract panels
One of two sheet metal work sheds painted by the artist Coker, The Wizard of Perry South

A blast of color. Soft pinks, big reds, cool blues and purples on one face; rusty reds, browns, and blacks another. Everything is accented in gold.

That gold! It’s a gold of ancient secrets and the gold of a new dawn. The warm glow has an extra glossy shine that elevates already-textured steel surfaces to a fourth dimension—something beyond space and time. What the amateur sees as mere spray paint is actually a fuzzy overlay on reality from another world.

Cast against the very literal rust of a pair of weathered steel sheds, the gold feels like flashes of light glinting and gleaming through stony creek water. Precious metal to some, fool’s gold to others, but with an experiential value beyond anything we can measure. That is, if you can climb out of 3-D and into this transformative plane.

colorful abstract designs painted on metal shed panels
J-E-S-U-S, gold. Detail, Shed 1
colorful abstract designs painted on metal shed panels
Stars and bars. Detail, Shed 2

In glorious full sunshine, surrounded by high summer’s lush greenery, the two old metal work sheds pop from the earth like temporary housing created by interstellar travelers. We may not speak their tongue, but these pictorial representations of stars and symbols, geometric patterns and light rays communicate enough otherworldly visions that we can get along.

Getting along is exactly what we want to do—very much so. The work is striking and soothing, both chaotic and patterned, with obvious iconography and wild abstraction. Like waves crashing on the beach or mountaintops viewed from a neighboring peak, one may stare into the wide murals, let the eyes go into a glazed soft-focus, and drift off to a blissed-out zen state where nothing looks the same way twice.

colorful abstract designs painted on metal shed doors
Notation for an impossible score. Detail, Shed 1
colorful abstract designs painted on metal shed doors
C-O-K-E-R. Detail, Shed 1

The artist who painted the sheet metal sheds has signed the work only as Coker, his last name—this much we know. We’d love to do a full-on Orbit artist profile on the man—there are so many questions! Does he also make smaller works? paintings? sculptures? what’s inside the sheds? It feels like there simply must be an amazing story there.

But … the volume of No Trespassing and Stay Out signs posted around the property suggest Coker is, at minimum, wary of uninvited guests and this we respect. I’ve visited the buildings a half dozen times over the course of a year-and-a-half, on various early mornings, mid-days, and weekends and left notes for Mr. Coker. Alas, I’ve never heard back and never managed to catch him in person. So … we’re left to muse about The Wizard of Perry South from his (street-visible) painted walls alone.

colorful abstract designs painted on metal shed panels
Gold stars. Detail, Shed 2
large metal shed painted in elaborate abstract panels
Shed 1, south profile

Coker’s most profound work—to these highly-opinionated eyeballs—remains the large abstract wall sections. “They’re like (Marc) Chagall!” Ms. Orbit exclaimed when your author produced his first photographs of the remarkable structures. That said, the artist’s paint work extends to more representational fare as well.

A corner wall section of the first shed includes tributes to Barrack Obama, Martin Luther King, Jr., Marvin Gaye, George Benson, and Snoop Dogg (in the form of gin & juice, illustrated with musical notes). Another celebrates the music of ’70s soul group Maze and includes the band’s bizarre seven-fingered hand logo. Elsewhere King Kong tramples New York while a bloated “fake news scum-bag”—not sure who that could be—tramples democracy.

metal shed painted with tributes to Barrack Obama, Martin Luther King, Jr., Marvin Gaye, George Benson, and the text "gin & juice"
Tributes to Barrack Obama, Martin Luther King, Jr., Marvin Gaye, George Benson, and gin & juice
Tribute to Frankie Beverly & Maze on metal shed doors
“Man Swamp”: Tribute to Frankie Beverly & Maze
painting of King Kong on metal shed
King Kong
painting of Donald Trump on metal shed with sign reading "Fake news scum-bag"
“Fake news scum-bag”
painting of downtown Pittsburgh skyline on wood panel on front porch of small house
Outside art / Pittsburgh skyline

Just down the block sits the third unmistakable Coker property. It’s a classic Pittsburgh two-up/two-down brick row house—now having outlived all former neighbors on a half-block-long dead end. The front of the home is painted in Coker’s tell-tale gold, daringly paired with splotchy silver—a color combination that makes even pink & brown stand up and take notice. Around the side, Coker has continued the blocky, abstract themes begun on the pair of sheds, but this time executed in gold, black, and white.

brick row house painted gold and silver
House Coker
abstract mural painted on masonry wall
Mural, House Coker (detail)

We could all use more magic in our lives—of this I’m sure. Luckily, we live in a time and place where one may stumble upon just that, right out in the open, on a simple summer bicycle ride or autumnal constitutional through a city neighborhood.

If you’re lucky enough to live in The Perrys, you know where Compound Coker is already. For anyone who doesn’t, we’ll not spoil the surprise with a precise address or instructions for travel. There’s enough information right here to locate Pittsburgh’s buried treasure of gold (art), it’s up to you to go out and find it.

large metal shed painted with elaborate abstract designs and text "Coker"
An arrow to the aether. Shed 2 profile