It has been quite a past couple of months for artist Kevin Cole. The Pine Bluff native, who lives near Atlanta, has seen a flurry of activity:
• Cole's work is part of the AfriCOBRA exhibition at Mosaic Templars Cultural Center. He and most of the other members of the pioneering black arts collective attended the opening of the group's exhibition "Respect: 50 Years of AfriCOBRA" on Sept. 20. He also joined AfriCOBRA members for a collaborative work commissioned by the museum. The exhibit closes Dec. 1.
• Cole attended the unveiling of his new installation at the Arts & Science Center for Southeast Arkansas in his hometown Oct. 18. The new sculpture, A Tale of Two Blessings: Passion vs. Purpose, is an aluminum and mixed media piece that is wall-mounted. It was commissioned by the museum.
• He was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame on Oct. 27.
Cole's work is in the collections of Tyson Foods, the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, National Museum of African-American History at the Smithsonian Institution and the Corcoran Gallery Museum in Washington, among many others. The artist took time out from his busy schedule to answer some questions via email.
Q: What is your first memory of art as a child?
A: My mom would tell me to make her a picture when I came home [from school] and tell her how my classmates made fun of me speaking. She told me I was special [because] I could speak with my talent.
Q: When did you know you wanted to be an artist?
A: I have a speech impediment. When I was in the fourth grade Mrs. Bradshaw, my social studies teacher, told me I was special; I was like Moses. I had talent. I had to learn to speak with my talent. Every project I did had to be more creative and better than everybody else. She made me promise I would always do my art.
Q: What led you to enroll at Arkansas AM&N (now University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff)?
A: My high school art teacher Ms. Maryann Stafford encouraged me; she said it was the best choice. I had other scholarship offers. Then I met Earnest Davidson [sculptor, UAPB art faculty]. He loved my work. He told me about [artists] Jeff Donaldson, Leedell Morehead, John Howard, Tarrence Corbin and Henri Linton. Later I got a call from John Howard [founder of UAPB art department] offering me a full ride. He told me about Hale Woodruff and [scholar and artist] David Driskell, who wrote the foreword for my 2012 catalog Straight From the Soul.
Q: When did you meet Jeff Donaldson, co-founder of AfriCOBRA?
A: I met Jeff my first year at UAPB, I was a member of the Art Guild.
Q: How do you regard Donaldson's art and educational influence in the context of the black power movement and the emergence of African-American art?
A: It wasn't until my junior year that I started to understand his work and the black arts movement after I had taken a few art history courses. He had an art exhibition at the university with a lecture at the Arkansas Arts Center. Once I got out of graduate school, we would talk a lot because Wadsworth Jarrell -- one of the other founding AfriCOBRA members -- and I were good friends.
Q: How did you get the invitation to join AfriCOBRA?
A: I was invited by [longtime AfriCOBRA member] Michael D. Harris. He said the brothers liked my work and had followed my career. I got a phone call from [member] Murray DePillars in November 2003.
Q: How has AfriCOBRA helped/influenced you as an artist?
A: Three ways: The critiques, the fellowship, the voice; with a group you have more of a powerful voice.
The critiques are very honest and critical. How can you push the envelope, have you considered this? Look at this artist's work. Fellowship with a group of artists, when combined, you have a total of 20 art degrees. We all are speaking in the same language, but with a different voice.
Q: What do you hope people will take away from AfriCOBRA's 50th anniversary exhibition?
A: I hope they take away knowing that a movement was started by an artist from Arkansas, Jeff Donaldson. He influenced the art world. I think a lot of people have come to understand the role he played.
Q: Your work is often a reflection of current events: the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001; the shootings in Charleston, S.C.; Hurricane Katrina and others. What are you working on now?
A: I am currently working on a piece for the new home of Dr. Alonzo and Susan Williams in Little Rock. I was delighted when they asked me to create a piece that will be the anchor for their collection. It is titled Surrounded by Blessings. I have other commissions I am working on. I will be exhibiting in Miami at Art Basel this year. I am also working on my D ladder series, which may be shown in Atlanta in January.
Q: Do you have another show coming up in Arkansas as a solo artist?
A: We are discussing that now; maybe in 2021.
Q: Are you still teaching?
A: The Art Institute of Chicago has asked me about doing some graduate critiques.
Q: Any chance you might return to Arkansas to live or teach?
A: Yes. I am working closely with UAPB Art Department.
Q: Whose work inspires you these days?
A: Sam Gilliam, Jack Whitten, Radcliffe Bailey, Bryan Massey [University of Central Arkansas].
Q: We know that African-Americans and other groups are underrepresented in art collections, museums, professional museum staff, etc. What's your take?
A: We are underrepresented, but it's getting better if you look at some of the auction prices African-American art is drawing. They are through the roof! And most of the artists are still alive. But it's good the museums are starting to recognize if they want to tell the real story in art, they need works by us.
Q: Who would you consider your greatest influences?
A: My parents Sam and Jessie Cole, Tarrence Corbin, Earnest Davidson, Henri Linton, John Howard and Sam Gilliam.
Q: Congratulations on being inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame.
A: Thank You, it is truly a blessing.
Cole is represented by Hearne Fine Art in Little Rock and galleries in Houston, Cincinnati and Denver. His website is artistcole.com.
Kevin Cole’s hanging sculpture of aluminum and mixed media is titled A Tale of Two Blessings: Passion vs. Purpose. It was commissioned by the Arts & Science Center for Southeast Arkansas.
Kevin Cole (center) talks about his art during a media opening for “Respect: 50 Years of AfriCOBRA” at the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center. With him are AfriCOBRA members James Phillips and Renee Stout.
Style on 11/11/2018
Print Headline: Kevin Cole reflects on AfriCOBRA, busy fall