Kevin Cole’s “Jacob’s Ladder: Joy and Pain” "My work is a universal story with both hero and villain, good and evil."

Kevin Cole, Jacob’s Ladder: Joy and Pain, 2002, Mixed media on plywood, Gift of Yolanda and Greg Head, 2004.73.1

Kevin Cole is a Black Southern artist based in Atlanta, Georgia. He is known for his mixed-media abstract sculptures, which utilize the necktie as a symbol of power. That symbol entered Cole’s work through a lesson by his grandfather on the importance of voting. When the artist turned 18, he told his grandfather that he didn’t see the point in registering to vote. “My grandfather stressed the importance of voting by taking me to a tree where he was told that African Americans were lynched by their neckties on their way to vote,” said Cole. “The experience left a profound impression in my mind.”⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣
Over the past 30 years, Mr. Cole has used the necktie form in myriad ways, twisting and knotting brightly painted plywood strips, drawing in space, transcending the form to unfold narratives of his community.⁣⁣
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“Truth is my work. It is a colorful reminder of promises unkept, imperialism still institutionalized and stealth deceit that has stolen the dreams and birthrights of twenty generations of a once proud people. It stands in contrast to the canon just as Normal Lewis’ work stood in contrast to those who framed early abstract expressionism.⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣
Yet, it is misunderstood in that while it is rooted in a place of targeted tragedy, the energy that drives its curvilinear twists, knots and loops is the energy found in the souls of ALL those who toil and triumph everyday against the odds and against the unheralded tragedies of life. My work is a universal story with both hero and villain, good and evil. The narrative is embedded like html code. It is not what one sees, but it can be decoded.”

⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣“My Jacob’s Ladders series is inspired by that epiphanous moment when we all at some point recognize that the end of life may be closer than the beginning. In that moment, most men and women stop to contemplate whether the acts/the art that define who we are today will be remembered tomorrow once we are no longer here. Will the actions that have been part of a purely existential life be pleasing to Him whom we believe in (if we are believers)?”

This work from the Ogden Museum’s collection is currently installed in the exhibition, What Music is Within: Black Abstraction from the Permanent Collection. From his series, Jacob’s Ladders, the narrative of the work asks the viewer to engage in the crucial act of self-examination. Former First Lady, Michelle Obama, called for the same act in a recent post about how to move forward from our current moment in American history. “It starts with self-examination,” she said, “and listening to those whose lives are different from our own. It ends with justice, compassion and empathy that manifests in our lives and on our streets.”⁣⁣