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Kevin Cole: Straight from the Soul

June 21, 2012 @ 10:00 am

“Highlighting twenty-five years of Kevin Cole’s artistic practice through more than thirty individual works, Straight from the Soul is not a canonical midcareer retrospective; it is, rather, a symphonic soliloquy—a reprise of the creative energy emanating from the artist’s studio. 

Designed as a traveling exhibition allowing for an intimacy of the viewing experience, the selection necessarily excludes examples of Cole’s large-scale work and site-specific commissions and does not address the artist’s eminence in the public art arena.  As conceptualized by the artist, it honors historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and black-owned institutions and galleries, while it extends its heart and hand across the color line.

Straight from the Soul is positioned at a crossroads in Cole’s career: glancing backward to formative experiences, individuals, and expressive moments while looking forward to understand the artist’s present work and its future trajectory. Evident herein is Cole’s transition from illusionism to abstraction. The artist’s penchant for literalism remains, but it is expressed differently; it is no longer told or rehearsed but rather embodied by artist’s materials and the creative process. Perhaps one of the most poignant statements to emerge from the selection is that of line: Cole’s artistry is all about the spirit of line. What binds the selection together, the shared relationship, is most often line: from the flatly painted works of The Basket Series or When the Blues Walked In; through the 3-D relief works of bendable plywood, Weathering the Storm, and etched aluminum, Another Strange Fruit; to his drawings in space—the Jacob’s Ladder: Do Lord Remember Me series. Examples from this latter, ongoing series, the most recent works on view, hint at future directions in his practice. The literal history and context so often quoted in accounts of Cole’s work—the necktie as metaphor for lynching—and the associative meanings of dominant ciphers (scarves, ribbons, bows, and flags), and his working materials (wood, roofing paper, aluminum, copper) are not absent but present as transcendent form.

Cole’s scripture Southern, black, American, and Christian informs his aesthetics; its meaning is rendered in visual form. While there are many more things to convey about Cole’s work, one thing that clearly resonates in Straight from the Soul is the artist’s resolve to render his community and scripture as beauty—as art.”

-Dr. Julie L. McGee, from the Book of Genesis to A Knock at Midnight