Kenny Cole, Citizen-Artist

In colonial America, the concept of the citizen-soldier was borne of the conviction that the defense of a nation is best ensured by its citizens. Implicit is a certain moral obligation to act on behalf of community well being, with the effect of keeping tyranny and corruption in check. It is in this spirit that Kenny Cole makes his art.
Kenny’s art is relevant to our world, our time, and our situation. The pandemonium of words, numbers, and images available on the Internet today can settle like a fog that obscures more than it reveals. This chaos is Kenny’s territory. He casts an unflinching eye on the world’s ills, and his hand does not waver in exposing what has been concealed and giving merit to what has been ignored. Like the world it reflects, his work is stunning in its complexity, mystifying in its randomness, and rewarding to those with the patience to sift through it all.
Kenny is restless and indefatigable in his pursuit. He is steadfast in maintaining a daily art practice and relentless in dispersing his work before the public eye, using all means at hand, from multiple Internet venues to art actions to any manner of exhibition space. His vision is clear, and his directness in both subject matter and technique reinforces that clarity. It takes courage to endeavor so much in creating art.
With his current body of work, “As High as Heaven”, for the first time in decades, rather than rendering in ink and gouache on paper, Kenny has chosen to create large-scale paintings on canvas. Though he pointedly chooses a vehicle traditionally considered to carry more weight, he also subverts convention, making two-sided paintings, hung with hinges, meant to be handled by the viewer, in order to take in both sides. On the back sides of the paintings--a place the viewer is usually not allowed to see--the recesses between the stretcher bars are drawn upon and sculpted, holding images and text executed in ink and gouache, sometimes over paper mâché bulges, sometimes under clear plastic packaging. Though front and back content are only loosely related, his method suggests we should search beyond the surface when dealing with the complex issues he presents.
We can be thankful that Kenny Cole soldiers on, revealing uncomfortable truths that many of us would rather ignore. His images are potent reminders of the complexities of society and the trade-offs we make to sustain our way of life. With its colorful, loopy style and amusing juxtapositions, Kenny’s work amiably draws us in. Though in time, we come to realize that he is alerting us to undeniable horrors and that we might be complicit in them. Therein lies its power, as well as seeds for change.

Freddy Lafage and Karen McDonald
February 2012