Alexandria Coe’s ‘Lovers’ chronicles the pain and healing process of heartbreak

Black and white portrait of woman nude facing wall with drawings

The artist and London Greek Street member’s latest book features more than 50 sketches created in response to a bygone relationship. Here, she explains how she draws out her feelings in charcoal

By Osman Can Yerebakan

For artist Alexandria Coe, last November was the beginning of a new chapter. Her book of drawings, Lovers, had just been released, and the Londoner was finally happy in her own company. A visual poem about healing from heartbreak, the drawings cover a universal but also undeniably personal subject. ‘Love is an enduring topic in all forms of art, because people have always had a hard time figuring it out,’ she says.

Fresh from the Parco dei Sesi residency on the tiny Sicilian island of Pantelleria, Coe is now back in town. The artist is looking forward to catching up with friends ‘without any technology involved.’ Yet, since returning from her two-and-a-half week stay on the volcanic island near North Africa, she still remembers the Mediterranean sun sinking into the horizon over Tunisia every evening.

Parting ways with her former partner a year-and-a-half ago changed the course of Coe’s life quite suddenly. She’d already started making intimate drawings of nude couples near the end of her relationship, but the vulnerability of a break-up gave her the courage to follow that path. ‘Linguistics sometimes get in the way,’ she says, about her decision to channel her feelings with minimalistic drawings in charcoal. 
line drawing of person on white
line drawing of person on white
Black Ink Projects released Coe’s collection of more than fifty drawings at the end of a globally chaotic year. The drawings’ visual looseness gives the figures an anonymity, which renders them devoid of specific characters. ‘Drawing has been my outcome after a heartbreak, just as literature or music is for others.’ 

Coe is ready to put her phone away to meet people in person, but at a time when yearning for a touch was a collective sentiment, the digital realm offered her a platform for self-expression. Once she began posting her work on Instagram, the drawings attracted more than 60,000 followers. Their embodiment of a tactile intimacy filled the gap caused by a sudden emotional distancing. ‘My work is about intangible feelings, but the process is tactile and instantaneous,’ she explains.
line drawing of person on white paper
Deep down, the affection she captures in a couple lying naked together, or tightly caressing one another, is about estrangement. ‘I was drawing the intimacy that wasn’t there for me – that lack of communication prompted other feelings for different people,’ Coe says, describing the response she’s received on social media. 

She thinks each image taps into another element of emotion. ‘Learning curve’ is her way of explaining every relationship, and ‘a new person may reflect a side of us that we don’t love [ourselves].’ The guilt of a break-up was eased by committing to poetically simple lines and penetrating juxtapositions. Fitting for an artist, she still prefers love in its every stage over running away from it to avoid the potential pain. ‘I wouldn’t have developed into the new person that I now am,’ she explains.
quote on shades of pink background

Flipping through the pages of her book today feels quite different for Coe. The most important take-away from her grieving process has been a self-discovery. ‘Every relationship is a mirror to ourselves to see the good and bad, or even feminine or masculine aspects.’ Her decision to focus on the body comes from her natural response to a feminine side. ‘Women are more connected to emotions through their bodies,’ she thinks. A particular drawing from Lovers shows a man hugging a woman from behind. The dynamic between two figures suggests support and codependence. After a moment of distress, comfort seems to come in his kiss, while her gaze is fixated on emptiness ahead. ‘I was holding the entire burden while feeling a need of support.’

line drawing of person on white
line drawing of person on white

Coe always drew, and after a degree in textiles, she returned to her initial passion to complete a Master’s degree in drawing. Magazines and brands occasionally tap her for collaborations, but Lovers is her most soulful work to date. ‘When something is really yours, it’s authentic,’ she says. A long period of commitment to her craft gave the artist the chance for a joyous closure, and finishing the book was an epiphany towards the next chapter.    

selection of books all the same title reads lovers in red text
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