Artist and native Cincinnatian Cedric Cox considers his work “A spiritual testimony to the visual experiences that arouse my senses and my synapses, as I examine and interpret the world around me, quietly and loudly.” Artists in any field would be the first to understand how something could be both quiet and loud; my own take is that he’s talking of the capacity to linger in the mind, an echo of the experience.
Cox’s most recent public contribution was as one of the black artists involved in the Black Lives Matter mural applied directly on Plum Street in front of City Hall in June. He was quoted as saying that he hoped the mural “will allow people to step into Black culture and ideas. It offers to black artists a way to visualize their stories and create in a way designed to resonate among other communities.” His assignment was the letter “e” in the word “Matter.” Although his own art is not normally involved in societal issues he is quick to participate in projects like this and found the project “a lot of fun. We had twenty-four hours to complete our designs.” Seventeen artists were involved, and apparently conversation never faltered. But who wouldn’t find it fun to paint the street in front of City Hall without being stopped by authorities?
Cincinnatians may well be accustomed to Cox’s work without actually knowing who he is as there are several large scale murals in public places, among them the Avondale Shopping Center, Amberley Village Municipal Center, at Visionaries and Voices and the Kennedy Heights Arts Center. He also has completed murals for various Cincinnati public schools. A recent recognition has brought his work farther afield: the James Ratliff Gallery in Sedona, Arizona now represents him and presented a solo exhibition of his work this spring called “Earth, Sky and Magic.”
Cox’s paintings invite long looking. They incite interesting thoughts about the complex relationships of shapes and colors within them. However close they may teeter toward being representational, that is not their reason for being.
Artists often know early that making art will be the center of their lives. Cox has said “As a child, I possessed the passion to put my interpretation of the world around me on paper, later forging those images into paintings.”
A 1999 graduate of the University of Cincinnati’s Design, Architecture, Art and Planning Program, Cox also studied on a fellowship to the Glasgow School of Art in Scotland. His canvases swirl with color, with suggestions of growing things that become simply delight in shapes and their interaction. These are not shy colors; they often fall into a category that could be called “strong pastels” – which takes the namby-pamby out of “pastel”. Humans appear irregularly and several steps away from realistic portrayal. He’s said he’s interested in “mythical literature, body relationships, musical allegories, natural and man-made landscapes” – a wide breadth of interests that produces works attracting attention on several levels. His canvases are vibrant, swirl with color, suggest rather than delineate their subject. He himself has said he takes ideas from early modernism to contemporary postmodernism and cites both Picasso and Braque as significant influences.
Although color is a vibrant part of this artist’s paintings, it’s interesting to see how the same interest in shapes and their interactions is successful on another plane in drawings that precede the paintings or sometimes are ends in themselves.
Cox’s work as an artist and also as an art educator make him a significant figure in the Cincinnati visual arts scene. He is an art instructor at St. Francis Seraph School in Over-the-Rhine, a role that gives him deep satisfaction. “This past school year I designed sixty four paintings for the new Children’s Hospital Critical Care Building. Students from South Avondale School, North Avondale School, Rockdale Academy, Woodward High School and Ludlow High School in Kentucky assisted in blocking in the colors and I am currently finishing them up,” he said.
Perhaps the most telling thing he said to me about his work was “I became a visual artist as an important way for me to communicate and subsequently build relationships with others.” His reputation reaches beyond the city, however; he’s been shown, sometimes multiple times, in galleries in Chicago, in both Harlem and Brooklyn, in Sacramento, California and elsewhere.
A twenty-year retrospective of Cox’s work is coming up this fall at Caza Sikes Gallery on Oakley Square, 3078 Madison Road. The exhibition is scheduled for September 11 through October 7.