Sunday, April 28, 2013

"Puzzled by the World" an Artist Interview with Kenny Cole

 A few years ago, I was standing in the Belfast Co-Op in Belfast Maine, staring at a community board filled with posters of all kinds and the one poster that jumped out at me, was a poster for a Draw-A-Thon event. The Draw A Thon was an all day event filled with a mixture of art and activism. The artist of the poster and organizer of the event turned out to be local artist Kenny Cole.

                      Only a few short week later I was sitting in a car with Kenny Cole, car pooling to the event and talking art. Kenny Cole is originally from New York State, currently living in Waldo County which was right where I happened to relocate in, when dropping into Maine. I was instantly inspired by Kenny Cole's work ethic at age 54, his energy, knolwedge, enthusiasm and of course, the breath takingly powerful artwork he creates. Kenny Cole's work is mostly water based mediums on paper and acrylic on canvas and can be seen all over Maine including: Aucocisco Gallery, Perimeter Gallery, Aarhus Gallery, Meg Perry Center, and Space Gallery. Kenny Cole has become an important role model who I look up to, and I am very excited to be able to interview him about his work.

( image: Kenny Cole cutting a stencil for a screen print.)

WH: What is your favorite work or series of work that you have created so far? Why is it your favorite?

Kenny Cole: My “Prison Papers” series. This series really got me started on studying the military arsenal in a big and artistic way.

(Double sided painting: TOP: “Scapegoat” on one side and BELOW: “Hot” on the other…both missile names!)

What inspires you to create?

Kenny Cole: The strange busy-ness that humans occupy themselves with in order to survive.

What is your artistic process start to finish, when creating a work of art?

Kenny Cole: I think that it starts with getting up early in the morning and making small
drawings for an hour, though other times the process can start during a car ride, with the radio turned off and me thinking  about things as the scenery rolls by. Then, maybe I’ll make a larger drawing…

  but I have to say that both the small and large drawings are complete works of art in my mind. So the small drawings usually involve looking through my 1966 encyclopedias or other odd photo books until I find something that strikes me. I then just create a drawing from it. Other times I copy or invent text and render it. Other times I just sit and think of something to draw. The larger drawings may spin off the smaller drawings or often they just emerge from thinking about things, ideas or my own recurring motifs and I just directly render from that. These large drawings will take the better part of a day, cumulatively (working on them for just a short time at a time) to complete. Large canvases or projects more often come about from sitting and thinking about big picture issues, art world trends, my own past projects or new directions that I’d like to take. Sometimes it takes a year or years of thinking about it, other times the whole idea comes in what seems like a flash. Often the idea morphs and re-forms into something different from the original. I agonize over big projects a lot. Once I decide to do a particular idea, I make a plan or timeline so that I can complete it. In the past I did not do this and often never completed big ideas. I try to work on big projects for 2 hours a day, after I get home from work, and they usually take a year or two to complete.

(Above: Small early morning drawing)
(Below: Large 30” x 22” drawing)

(Below images: Large two-sided canvas that took months to make!)

How do you promote /show/ display your artwork?

          Kenny Cole: I’m always looking for opportunities that are offered to artists to exhibit. If I do not succeed in getting any, I look for places that are open to artists like library exhibition spaces or other interesting spaces. There are many of these all around us. I design and print my own announcement cards, try to maintain a mailing list, take ads out in art magazines and produce my own image catalog, which I often send copies of to a few commercial galleries that I like. I keep work that does not sell in a space above my studio. One of my goals is to organize this space! People more often experience my work through exhibitions, though I also have a couple of places on the web where people view my work. One site, ( is a photo sharing community. There I’ve met and collaborated with other artists from around the world.

The business of art....

            Kenny Cole: I’ve begun to make some money from my art, but certainly not enough to quit my day job. I find it very difficult to sell my work. I think this might be because my work might not have the kind of appeal, that is, that one might feel compelled to own it, though they might really enjoy seeing it! This is just speculation on my part. I think that in general art is not extremely salable. I’ve tried a bunch of things to increase the income from my art, some more successful than others. So far, creating screen prints has been a good idea and fairly successful in terms of sales. Having a web presence is a good tool to help people to start getting familiar with your work and a convenience for those already familiar with your work to be able to choose a piece to purchase. My strategy is basically to work on my art as often as I can in order to grow and develop as an artist and produce new work. I believe that showing is very important, that creating a real time, real space experience for yourself and others to interact with your art is ultimately the best way to get feedback on what people think about your work and engender sales. The more people that are aware of you and your work, the better chance you have of selling. I have had very little luck establishing a strong relationship with a Gallery or Dealer, who might do the work of selling and this has made me more reliant on my own strategies, for better or worse!

What is the reason you create artwork?

Kenny Cole: I probably create work because I truly enjoy making things or thinking about things and then presenting some manifestation of my thoughts. I am very puzzled by the world and our existence in general, so when I create art, it helps me deal with that. I observe my surroundings often and what I see sometimes gets pulled into my art. I don’t think that my art has any effect on my surroundings though.

What are your current or upcoming projects? What are you working on now?

Kenny Cole: I am currently working on two projects. I’ll be having a solo show at Buoy Gallery in Kittery this June, that I’ve titled “Distress”. It will have 4 or 5 of my Jacob’s Ladders in it, red and white bunting made from discarded clothing, plus lots of “flag” drawings and few submarine drawings. The idea will be, my take on our lousy economy. From my perspective, I see Kittery as just another down and out Maine town, gone are the factory jobs and in comes the military economy to save the day…and the Outlet stores, which are no longer outlets attached to a factory, but rather some weird sham; they are outlets to some factory halfway across the globe and are presented as shiny new malls! What’s that all about? I’m also working on a big installation for a solo gig at the Zillman Gallery at the University of Maine Museum of Art for January 2014. This will be titled “Parabellum” and consist of over 50 two-sided canvases mounted to the walls, that the viewer will be able to manually turn. It will be a docu-fiction in that these canvases will have been the work of a civil war veteran discovered only a few years ago. It will have flags, battle maps and poetry.

If you had unlimited resources for a dream project, what would it be, and who would be involved?

Kenny Cole: Wow! I’d love to work with technology and make machines that produce imagery from component imagery in a way that, say, every possible combination of some configuration is calculated by a computer and then printed out as archival images. There would be so many possible combinations that the machine would essentially run for years or decades or milleniums! I might also open it up to user input, so that the number of possible combinations would then increase exponentially. There might even be many locations that were connected electronically. All of the prints produced would need to be housed, so this project would begin to involve buildings and storage! Somewhat unrelated, I’d also love to manipulate buildings or interiors by making, say, paintings that cover openings in walls that lead to hidden rooms or canvases that nest into each other or are stacked in such a way that involves transforming the walls and spaces of a building structure…maybe connect the printing machines with the hidden rooms?!

List of few artists (living or dead in any medium) who have inspired your work.

Kenny Cole: Nancy Spero and Raymond Pettibon, made it ok for drawing to be seen as finished art. They also mixed myth and reality nicely. I saw Nancy’s work in the 70’s or 80’s, so she had an early influence on me, though I may not have reacted immediately, she has lingered in my psyche and I now realize how important her work is and feel that it is still immensely relevant and important to me. She did a series based on the Vietnam War that still resonates with me. I discovered Raymond Pettibon around 2002 and really identified with his “Bad” drawing style. His work often reflects on 60’s counterculture or “social” issues in a humorous and edgy way, which I really like.

Who's art would you love to know more about? Why would you like to know more about them? How did you meet them?

Kenny Cole: Well, I’d like to know more about an artist who I don’t know! I’d love to know more about Melinda Barnes. I found her work while looking through the now defunct Whitney Artworks website. I really like her graphite drawings and suspect that she might be one of those artists who, like myself, makes simple drawings that are an end by themselves, rather than a springboard for larger paintings and such. I’m really curious about her choice of subject matter, which seems playful, random and inspired. She’ll draw portraits, cracks in the wall, fabric patterns and silly things. It’s an endearing gamut, which has a nice outsider art feel to it. Looking at her website, I see that a lot of her drawings are very small. I’m curious to know if she draws from life…it’s hard to tell, and I like that!

Where can we find you online?

Kenny Cole: My website is the best place to go to:

You can even purchase work directly from there! If you would like to get on my mailing list, drop me a note at or call me: 322-5243 or write me:

41 West Main Street Monroe, Maine 04951

If you are in Portland, you can stop into Aucocisco Gallery and ask Andy Verzosa to show you my work. If you are in NYC you can go to Pierogi Gallery and see my work in their flatfile. Otherwise, you could always schedule a studio visit too, if you are traveling through Waldo County.

Final Statement

Kenny Cole: I would like to see more artists flourishing. I think that too many of us lose heart and have a hard time balancing creative time with survival time. I would love to see more money spent on uplifting and supporting creative individuals.

(BONUS PHOTO: Kenny Cole and William Hessian at the Rip & Tear: Experimental Drawing Exhibition at the Meg Perry Center)

Thanks to Kenny Cole for being interviewed. At the end of every month I post a new artist interview with amazing artists I have had the luck to meet, collaborate or interact with during my journey as an artist.
Please subscribe to my blog and share these interviews so as many people can experience the incredible work of these artist.
Browse my blog for all kinds of other good stuff. And as always thanks for reading.
 ~ William "the canvas killer" Hessian

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