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 Ernest Cox  (1937 - )

About: Ernest Cox


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Lived/Active: Florida/Maryland/North Carolina      Known for: abstract sculpture, teaching

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Ernest Cox was born in Wilmington, North Carolina in 1937. He received a B.A. in Fine Arts at the College of William and Mary in 1959, and an M.F.A. from Cranbrook Academy of Art in 1961. Postgraduate study (Philosophy) at Michigan State University, 1961.

His professional background includes Sculptor/Designer, General Motors Styling Division Experimental Program, 1960; Art Instructor, the Duval County School System and the Jacksonville Art Museum, 1961-62; Faculty member and Professor of Art, University of South Florida, 1962-1991, where he also served as Chairman of the Art Department, 1971-73. He was designated Professor Emeritus in 1993.

Just prior to, and during his tenure at the University of South Florida, Cox participated in well over one hundred juried and invitational exhibitions throughout the East and Southeast, including solo gallery shows in New York, Atlanta, Jacksonville and Tampa. His work has been shown in group exhibitions at a number of museums, including the Virginia Museum of Fine Art, the North Carolina Museum of Fine Arts, the Mint Museum, Jacksonville Art Museum, the Tampa Art Museum, the High Museum of Art, Norton Gallery, the Ringling Museum of Art, and others.  His work has been seen in solo shows at the Jacksonville Art Museum, and the Academy Art Museum in Easton, Maryland.

He has received a number of awards for his sculpture, including first prize in the 1965 Florida State Fair Fine Arts Exhibition, Tampa, and first (purchase) prize in the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce's Invitational Southeast Sculpture Competition (1969). Grants have been awarded by the Fine Arts Council of Florida (two Individual Artist Fellowships) and by the University of South Florida (including a Faculty Development Leave, a Sponsored Research Award and an Outstanding Undergraduate Teaching Award). Cox is represented in a number of corporate and public collections, including the First National Bank of Atlanta, the Gulfcoast Museum of Art, the St. Petersburg, Florida Public Library, the Corporate Headquarters of the F.D.I.C., the Gulf Life Insurance Company, and the First National Bank of Tampa, as well as in numerous private collections.

Retired from teaching in 1991, Cox and his wife Barbara live in Maryland, where he continues to work, but exhibits infrequently.  A solo show at the Academy of Art Museum in Easton , Maryland in 1997 was later followed by the Museum's acquisition of three new works (2009).

I was drawn into art as a student, in the 1950s, by the pull of abstract expressionism. Although painters ruled the day, it turned out that I had a stronger affinity for sculpture. While I did some figure work, my real interest was in abstraction, and the potential of actual mass in space to achieve the same kind of energy and spontaneity a lot of painting had. Prior to 1970, metals were my materials of choice -- particularly welded steel, with its seductive variability of properties. Cast bronze came a close second for its ability to take almost any shape. I was drawn intuitively to a fusion of natural and mechanistic form. In time, found parts supplied most of the latter. These had the disconcerting habit of suggesting 'readable' references to the culture, however. I made an effort (through choice and alteration) to use parts whose identities were unlikely to interfere with the pure formal character I was looking for.

During the mid and late sixties we began to see profound changes in the cultural atmosphere. I had been interested in the psychology of human behavior (and more generally, ontology) for some years, and here were events which intensified those interests. I decided to expand my work to include them. By then, of course, I would hardly be alone in bringing other content to aesthetically-oriented work, but I had plenty to think about in developing my own approach.

My first experiments in this new direction resulted in a series of thirty six wall sculptures I called "slabs". These were steel, rectilinear in shape, and roughly twenty four inches by twelve, by four inches in depth. My intent was to use the potential of those bits and pieces I had avoided before to create metaphorical work (with varying degrees of cultural, and the odd universal, reference) without letting go of the visual qualities I was after in my strictly abstract work. Later and current pieces have left this format, but except for an occasional freestanding sculpture, I continue to use walls for the neutral ground they provide. These newer sculptures are also made of a greater variety of materials. They are typically larger, but most have retained a generally symmetrical composition, with discrete elements pulled into interaction by proximity.

When I'm asked about specific meaning in a particular piece, I'm faced with a dilemma common to artists whose work deals with metaphor or obscured reference. Explanations have the potential to cause mischief on a couple of fronts. Where the art embraces the broad ambiguities and paradoxes of life itself, its meanings may be various and ambivalent enough to make exposition a daunting task. Where the focus is narrow, translation still risks disarming the work, robbing it of crucial nuance. The art is about possibilities -- carried by the elements in it. These offer complex, and sometimes conflicting leads, but they come out of a time and place -- a cultural context -- which provides a lot of common experience, and in the process, access. My hope is to entice (or maybe provoke) the viewer into a dialog which is as rich as the one I experience in wrestling the work into being. That experience will certainly differ, depending on what we each bring to it, but neither of us has to worry about a 'correct' reading. I'm certainly less interested in an elusive truth than in the human dance around it.

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