July 18, 2020

The virus surges: my mind shuts down. In 2008, shortly before Barack Obama was elected, I began a series of text drawings. I anticipated that he would win, and my thoughts were already onto the idea that language would play a huge role in the upcoming Zeitgeist. Post 9/11, conspiracy theory had already seemed to gain a broad foothold and I felt its pulse deepening. Obama’s name alone was enough to spawn an American subculture. More than a decade later, the spawn has been seeded and is seated in the White House and the confusion between what is real, modified, or manipulated is stronger and more real than ever. To me, personally, things are clear. However trying to speak or think, amidst a constant flowage of misrepresentation is daunting. Uttering the “T” word seems only to make it grow. Creating art only adds to its girth. A sad helplessness overwhelms me, yet I paint on. I feel as if my expressions could be sustenance for those who, like me, feel drained.

The virus surges: I slow down and turn inward. After the 2016 election, my next “zeitgeist” move was to add “Twitter Blue” to my palette in heavy doses. This transformation was, again, language based; but now the distinction between a corporation and a patriot was in the mix and the new blurry frontier. Prior to the fall of America in the fall of 2016, I had created much imagery that incorporated Flag Red, omitting the blue in order to avoid a specific reference to the U.S.A. The blue had now arrived, but it was more towards cerulean so it could be distinct from the color scheme of American pageantry, or play into it on other levels. As an artist, my goal would never be to express a partisanship; rather it would be to express an observation of culture, society, and power strategies. To explore these notions I’ve always tried to go internal and listen to the noise within myself, which, for each of us, is always a reflection of the world we have lived in.

Cole 03 Trump copy

Kenny Cole, Relief for the Portland Sufferers (Donald Trump), ink and gouache on paper with vintage newspaper collage frame, 11 x 8.5 in., 2017.


The virus surges and I’m trying not to think about the distant future. The internet has added a huge bulk to the development of language, pockets of darkness can now fester. In 2017, for a show at the Portland Public Library, where the artists were invited to explore the library’s archives, I discovered a dark angry letter from the South, handwritten 100 years earlier, that expressed contempt and just deserts towards this northern city and the survivors of the Great Fire of 1866, which had destroyed much of Portland, Maine. The author viewed the suffering as payback for the destruction and loss of life endured within the writer’s home state of Alabama during the war. I decided to seek out the dark angry language of the current day “Base” and readily found it in comment sections on articles on immigration here in Maine. I drew this language using a nib pen on drawing paper, which I then tore, wrinkled and stained in order to present it as a false artifact that could reflect upon the great-unresolved civil divide still festering in our country.

Cole 01 Hysteria copy

Kenny Cole, Hysteria Drawing: Obama’s Been Laden, ink on paper, 11 x 8.5 in., 2008.


The virus surges and some of us begin to become deeply aware of structural violence. In 2018, dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi was lured into the Saudi Embassy in Turkey and brutally executed. Our administration was not phased by this and quickly painted a bright picture of a future filled with prosperity, thanks to the 2017 sales of weapons to Mohammad Bin Salman Al Saud. I was shortly thereafter asked to curate an exhibition, and created Gallery Closed, which opened in July 2019. A year later, that same gallery would actually be closed and my outrage over America’s dereliction of duty in fighting for human rights outside of our borders would turn in on itself tenfold as a war against our own language. We would seize upon the concept of justice at home as an act of terrorism and home grown dissidents as thugs. The structural violence is international, market driven, and flows freely across borders: not unlike the virus.

Cole 04 Jonah copy

Kenny Cole, Jonah, gouache on paper, 120 x 183 in., 2019.


July 19, 2020

The virus surges and I hold on. The animal world has always been a mysterious companion to the human species. We started off walking alongside it, observing it, learning from it, talking to it, and apologizing to it when we needed to kill it for our survival. The virus is not an animal, yet it has emerged from nature. It is not autonomous and can only replicate within a living being, yet it verges within the realm of life on a molecular level. Our distance from nature is great, so it is clearly offensive that something that has emerged from nature could overtake us in this age in which the tap of a keyboard button can bring to our doorstep anything we desire. As I began to start a new body of work in the fall of 2019 that would be exhibited in December of 2020, I considered the possibilities in terms of future American leadership and who might be in office running our country by that time. I found myself choosing to depict animals acting out, in order to explore my thoughts and feelings about the transformations of our society over the past few years and what the future might hold. Then, slowly, the virus emerged, the chaos began, and the angry animals became strangely very relevant to both politics and being human. The tension between the human and natural world became a view larger than national politics. It helped me to see and think about the greater existential struggle we face as a species within a mute parallel world that we thought we had left behind thanks to the promise of technology.

Cole 02 Glowing copy

Kenny Cole, Glowing Phosphor Particles, collage, ink, and gouache on paper, 10 x 14 in., 2016.


The virus surges and I am in Maine, in an island of calm and measured reason. Elsewhere alternative narratives and acts of aggression are emerging from the hysteria. An open wound has been sprinkled with salt, and our nation is crying out in pain. Various narratives are getting folded inside out and recycled as battering rams against any voice of reason. Power strategies fueled by a convoluted dialogue take aim at every institution, reducing democracy, defined as a swamp, to dictatorship or cult worship. Since the Fall of America I have reluctantly turned my gaze toward the blonde-haired one and taken aim. It gives me no pleasure to do so, and I waffle between willful ignorance and an inability to turn my head from viewing the carnage. Painting animals has helped greatly, but the hour is nearing and we have to decide upon the next form of our power structure again, though it might be too late to change some things, and too much damage may have occurred already. My gaze turns towards The One again and I look and listen. All is static and nonsense, which I paint.


Image at top: Kenny Cole, Mantra, gouache on paper, 12 x 12 in., 2020.de