Kevin Cole explains to students from Dumas Elementary School the idea behind his painting “Signs of the Times: Struggle of the Families.” (Special to The Commercial/William Harvey)
Alex Williams (left) and Cykor’e Freeman, students from Dumas Elementary School, pick their favorite piece of art from Kevin Cole’s exhibit during a visit to the Arts & Science Center for Southeast Arkansas. (Special to The Commercial/William Harvey)
Native son, Kevin Cole, returned to the city of Pine Bluff to showcase and celebrate 25 years of artistry with a retrospective exhibition hosted by the Arts & Science Center for Southeast Arkansas and the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.
Cole, who earned his bachelor of science in art education from UAPB, presented a gallery talk and signed copies of his book, “Kevin Cole: Straight From the Soul,” during an opening reception at the Arts & Science Center on Oct. 11.
Cole was also on-hand for an educational component of his exhibit, where elementary students from the Dumas School District were invited to the Arts & Science Center for a hands-on experience.
“This was a special opportunity. We wanted to reach out to a school farther in the region, who might not otherwise get an opportunity to come to the museum and get to meet Kevin and do a hands-on arts project,” said Lenore Shoults, executive director of the Arts & Science Center.
At the beginning of the educational component, Cole introduced himself to the students and told them that he was a “painter/sculpter” and that many of clients have included NBA players, including Michael Jordan. Cole also said Raven Symone was one of his former students.
“Much of my work has dealt with the necktie as a symbol. My grandfather owned propery in Tarry and he told me how black people were lynched by their neckties on their way to vote, so that stuck with me,” Cole said.
The students were then asked to take a few moments, walk around the gallery and choose their favorite work of art. One of the first pieces the students selected was “Signs of the Times: Struggle of the Families.”
Cole told the students that he used a lot of symbolism in the piece.
“When I was working on the ‘Signs of the Times’, I was trying to convey the struggle of the family. I used the flag to symbolize all the freedom we have and the Bible because I believe the family and the church are very important. The family is a big part of the church,” he said.
Cole said since 1992 his work has evolved to include the relationship between color and music, especially music as it relates to the African American community.
“Straight From the Soul” is a selection of 36 works from 1986 to 2012. Cole’s early works are on exhibition at the Arts & Science Center and his later sculptures are being shown in the Leedell Moorehead-Graham Fine Arts Gallery at UAPB.
The exhibition registers Cole’s creative union of message and form, color and design, and showcases his aptitude for drawing, painting, printmaking, and sculptural assemblage. In addition to his artistic mastery Cole agitates, commemorates, and harmonizes through and with art as exemplified in “Signs of the Times” (1986), “For the Sistas Who Carry the Burden for Other Sistas” (1997), and “Do Lord Remember Me” (2010). His work is in corporate and private collections as well as museum collections that include the Smithsonian Museum of Art, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, and the Georgia Museum of Contemporary Art. The exhibition includes a piece from the latter’s permanent collection.
Also acclaimed as an art educator, Cole has received 27 fellowships and 39 teaching awards. He earned his master of art in art education and painting from the University of Illinois, and his master of fine arts in drawing from Northern Illinois University.
Thanks to sponsors, Larry Cooper, Ralph Robinson & Son Funeral Directors, and Thomas Groceries & Gift Store, the exhibition is free and open to the public.
UAPB also hosted a reception in Cole’s honor on Thursday and a meet-and-greet was held at the Arts & Science Center immediately following UAPB’s Homecoming parade Saturday.
Shoults said the meet and greet would be “a great opporunity for parents to bring their children and meet a real success story and native of Pine Bluff.”
Cole’s exhibit will be on display through Dec. 7 at the Arts & Science Center and in the Ledell Moorehead-Graham Gallery at UAPB. For more information about the exhibit at the Arts & Science Center call 870-536-3375. For information about the UAPB exhibit, contact Henri Linton, UAPB Art Department chairman, at 870-575-8235.