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    Kevin Cole is a visual artist based from Altana whose work has been included in over 450 exhibitions throughout the eastern United States. One of his pieces will be featured in the Smithsonian's new National Museum of African American History and Culture on Sept. 24. Photo courtesy of NCCU Art Museum.

Atlanta-based artist has first museum showing in the Triangle at NCCU

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The phrase “more than meets the eye” isn’t just true; it’s a challenge to look more deeply and critically at the world.

Meet an artist who takes the deadly history of a familiar object and turns it into inspiration for his art.

Visual artist Kevin Cole debuted his “If Colors Could Speak” collection and presented a guest lecture Monday, Aug. 29 at N.C. Central University’s Art Museum.

Cole is a successful visual artist born and raised in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. He has been an artist for more than four decades and an educator for almost 32 years.

Cole received a B.A. degree in art education at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, and teaches in the Fulton County School System.

When you see his work, it’s impossible to miss one key aspect. Curiously, Cole’s work often features neckties. Yes, neckties.

This garment became intertwined with Cole’s art when his grandfather shared a somber reality with him shortly after high school.

At that time, Cole was old enough to vote, but he didn’t want to register.

His grandfather kneeled down, drew a map in the sand and told Cole to go stand by a tree. He then told Cole about how African-Americans would be lynched during the Jim Crow days: from trees, by their neckties, on their way to vote.

From then on, neckties became a recurrent image in Cole’s artworks. But they aren’t his only source of inspiration.

“I always say that my work is about five issues,” Cole said.

Signs of the Times Still Trying to Cross the Bridge (1989) by Kevin Cole. Photo by Tia Mitchell/Echo Co-Editor-in-chief
Signs of the Times Still Trying to Cross the Bridge (1989) by Kevin Cole. Photo by Tia Mitchell/Echo Co-Editor-in-chief

“Number one, the story my grandfather told me; then September 11th, Hurricane Katrina, the relationship between color and music (sight, sound and color), and my relationships with my professors.”

Cole’s work ethic speaks for itself, as does his art. His pieces have been in more than 450 exhibitions. He has conducted workshops all across the nation, and has received awards and grants for his work.

“I don’t know anybody that works harder … longer than Kevin Cole,” Kenneth Rodgers, director of the NCCU Art Museum, said. “He has a resume that could reach across this room.”

Cole started his lecture by answering a question that he seemed to get a lot: “How did you get Michael Jordan to buy your art work?”

Cole has many NBA players as clients, including NBA hall-of-famer Michael Jordan. Cole also mentioned that Jordan’s ex-wife periodically commissions his pieces.

Dancing with Boogaloo Beats (2010) by Kevin Cole. Photo by Tia Mitchell/Echo Co-Editor-in-chief
Dancing with Boogaloo Beats (2010) by Kevin Cole. Photo by Tia Mitchell/Echo Co-Editor-in-chief

In 1996, Cole was chosen from more than 1,000 artists to do a piece for the summer games in Atlanta. Coca-Cola was the official sponsor for the games, and they paid Cole to complete a mural that would be displayed on the side of a 15-story building.

The mural detailed distinguished residents of Atlanta. It took him two years, six months and 17 days to finish. The Coca-Cola Centennial Olympic mural would become one of Cole’s most memorable works of art.

NCCU visual arts communications senior Dominick Adams was intrigued with Cole’s detail and symbolism.

“I think Kevin Cole’s art work is a demonstration of his progress throughout his life,” said Adams.

“The most interesting thing that I found out about him is his detailed symbolism that is found in all of his works. It gives new perspective on his art work.”

Cole’s art is noted for its vibrant colors and positive titles.

“Titles are important to me,” Cole said. “All of my titles are positive titles because I like to look at negativity as the past, and we’re moving forward.”

His art has been inspired many, and his works address serious topics. Cole said he could live off of his art alone, but his favorite pieces of art are his childre, Nia and Skylar.

Scattered Hopes with Dreams (2009) by Kevin Cole. Photo by Tia Mitchell/Echo Co-Editor-in-chief
Scattered Hopes with Dreams (2009) by Kevin Cole. Photo by Tia Mitchell/Echo Co-Editor-in-chief

As for what’s coming next, Cole says he was inspired to create a piece influenced by the National Republican Convention and he’s given it the name “Midnight in America.”

Cole’s “If Colors Could Speak” exhibit will be displayed from August 28 to October 7. More information on Kevin Cole is available on his website: artistkcole.com

Story by Deja Spooney.

The Campus Echo is the official student newspaper of N.C. Central University, an HBCU in Durham with about 8,250 students.
The Campus Echo is one of the most highly recognized HBCU student newspapers in the nation. In the last 15 years our print and online editions have won over 250 national and regional awards from the Black College Communication Association, the Society for Professional Journalists, the Associated Collegiate Press and the North Carolina College Media Association.

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