Cedric Michael Cox is best known for his paintings and drawings, which fall between surrealism and representational abstraction. His work expresses themes ranging from mythical literature to the relationships between the physical body, musical allegories, and natural and man-made landscapes. Cox has had solo exhibits at the Contemporary Arts Center, the Carnegie Visual and Performing Arts Center, PAC Gallery, and Weston Gallery in the Aronoff Center for the Arts. In support of his efforts in the visual arts and art education communities, the City of Cincinnati awarded Cox the Individual Artist Grant in 2009. He received a Congressional Award in 2010. He is considered a well established pillar within the arts community in the city of Cincinnati, as well as through out the region.
Cedric just finished shows at the Clifton Cultural Arts Center and the Columbus Museum of Art among others and has a solo exhibition in March at the Taft Museum of Art. He is also currently teaching at various high schools, the Art Academy of Cincinnati Community Education Department, and working on murals around the city.
Five-Dots: How long have you been in this studio?
Cedric Cox: About a year and a half.
F-D: When you moved in here, did you have an idea for how you wanted to lay it out or did it develop organically?
CC: I knew that this one wall would be the wall that I work from. And so I actually took the walls from the studio over on 15th and brought them over here [for background: at one point in time I rented a studio space from Cedric as well as Michael Hurst out of a space they ran called Engine 22, located on 15th and Central Parkway]. I knew this open area would be my space without work. I like working off of tables now. So every table in here is a working table. And I’ve got so many tarps! When it gets too crazy in here I’ll just pull them out and cover everything up.
F-D: Do you ever get visually overwhelmed? I only ask because my work also revolves around bright color and every once and a while if I have too many paintings in my space I’ll experience some serious anxiety.
CC: No, not really. I like what I do. I feel like the only thing wrong with having all of the work out is that you then might get a false sense of accomplishment. . . But I think that they all need to be out and up off the floor, or I’ll kick em’. It’s a logistical thing.
F-D: Has the location of the studio influenced your work in any way?
CC: Yea it has. At the old space I shared the building with other artists, but I was the only live-in artist. And so most of the time when I was there, others were not. Now I live in this building with another person, whom I also rent from. And so. . . can I crank my guitar at 11 at all times? No. And because the walls are kind of thin, you do feel a kind of confinement. But at the same time, I have made more work in the 7 months I’ve been here than I have in years.
F-D: Do you think that you feel some responsibility to produce because there is another person floating around?
CC: No, because I’ve had shared spaces and I didn’t feel that. I don’t really feel that competitive nature. I think it’s more of a financial issue than anything. I have to produce to sell, I know why I am here. This place is mellow for a reason. There is a sense of purpose in the cost of the place.
F-D: I’m always interested in the fiscal reasoning and willingness to invest in artists workspaces.
CC: For me, teaching and doing murals pays the bills. Selling paintings is my retirement. But at the end of the day-- there is an emotional difference between teaching and selling painting. You have to know what you are putting into your business. My first studio was an apartment with studio space. It was over on 14th, a shot gun apartment. The live-in studio has always been my preference. Everything is there, you can’t forget anything at your studio when your studio and home are the same place.
F-D: Can you describe a typical day for yourself in the studio?
CC: So, let’s say on a Saturday, a day where I can really dedicate the day to working: I start out with research online. I research my subject matter and then I work on some drawings to get ready to start painting. On those days I usually paint for about 3-4 hours. Any other day during the week I’ll paint maybe 1-2 hours. For me, research has always taken up more of my time. Sizing and drafting then also takes more time than the painting. The real fun for me is the actual painting. I also have a tendency to stop and go play my guitar when I’m really enjoying what I am making. The flow of creativity kind of starts to get on and it bounces back and forth between music and painting. And sometimes I’ll start writing or singing lyrics of affirmation: “You’re good enough, you’re strong enough, you’re brave enough”. That sort of thing.
F-D: It’s interesting that you keep saying ‘enough’. You aren’t saying “I am brave”, you’re saying “I’m brave enough”. There is a level of acceptance in that that’s really nice.
CC: Yea, because your good enough to handle this in this moment in time. That’s how I handle my paintings and you know, that one [points to the in progress painting on the wall] has been in that state for weeks. I know where it’s going, but there are other things that need to get done first. Be confident in your process and trust yourself. Know when your slacking a little bit but also be strong enough to be ok with that. It’s ok for today, and that’s fine.
F-D: How would you describe your subject matter or the content of your work?
CC: I would call it lyrical cubism. The content of my work is anthropomorphic, biomorphic imagery fused with references of the urban environment that has been a part of my work ever since moving to Over-The-Rhine. A sense of a surreal, playful, and childlike look towards nature. In the future I’d like to have an exhibition that features all of my interests. I’d like to have an exhibition that isn’t themed. I’d just call it: “This is Where I’m at Right Now”. No theme, because that’s some art school shit. And I don’t want it.
F-D: Too elitist for ya?
CC: For me, there isn’t any reason why this image and that image can’t be next to each other and not make sense.
F-D: Couldn’t you just argue that thematically your just dealing with a period of time?
CC: Yea! I feel, and this becomes particularly true when I’m working on a figurative piece; I start to overthink about all of the academic shit, “oh, why is this figure like this… what does this mean…”. Fuck that. I just want to work. So eventually that’s what I’d like to do. I’m trying to shed myself from that academic hyper reasoning.
F-D: What mediums do you work with?
CC: Acrylic and graphite. I sometimes use pastels. But I have allergies so I’m not a huge fan of that.
F-D: Can you tell us more about this process and how it has evolved?
CC: I have a system, I figure it out. For me drawing and painting are two separate things. When I’m planning something out I keep it simple-- I have a color concept.
F-D: So are those linear and color concepts two different beginnings for you?
CC: Yea, for sure. The color is the environment, but drawings have different purposes-- some drawings will make for a good atmosphere and some will make for structure-- it’s about making the two work together. I usually work in layers. Once I have finished one layer and I feel like I’m ready for another, I’ll clean it up and then solidify it in varnish. Then I’ll do a carbon copy directly on top of the painting, and then begin. It keeps the layers fresh, and separates the drawing and painting. I’m also very interested in student work. They just go for it.
So, in reference to the Taft show, there is the Dutch painting of the girl with the guitar [Lady Playing a Guitar, Caspar Netscher 1669] and I’m gonna play that against the Mother and Child [Virgin Child, approximately 1260-80 Paris, France] motif in the Medieval Gallery, and some Asian art that are in other galleries, and I will play all of those references against my cubist style and format, with perhaps an Asian motif. So that is how my mind works. I use my research and reference those images in a way of finding pattern and color. I want to incorporate realism and quirkiness.
F-D: It’s really ironic that you’re trying to get away from academia but your references are so relative to art history.
CC: But I want it to be relatable to everybody. I want everybody to grab it and understand it. I want it to be for them, because it’s by them. I’m just a regular guy. That’s my point. At one point, right after graduating from DAAP, [University of Cincinnati College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning, I struggled. I always knew that I wanted people to like and buy my work. I wanted everyone to enjoy it. I think I felt an obligation to subject matter that had a purpose and a social content. And so trying to do that, and finding that my work didn’t do that; and then that causing me to search inward and be honest and see what my work was about. . . That was invaluable. There isn’t anything stopping me but me. This is my work. It’s not my identity.
F-D: Do you have narratives in mind for each piece?
CC: There is nature and indoor / outdoor feeling. Interior and exterior space play a big part in my work. Some speak to an urban environment and then some speak to inner forest. There is absolutely a battle between the two.
F-D: Do you consider your work to be autobiographical at all; does personal history work its way into your art?
CC: Personal history does. You know, you always want to evolve away from where you have been. When I realized that I wanted to use Over-The-Rhine as a resource I began to think back on personal struggle and wanting to become the artist that I wanted to be. I think that being comfortable in your skin is the end of the road. The work should feel natural, do it because it feels good. If there is something autobiographical, it ends with me being happy with the work.
F-D: What influences outside the visual arts inspire and impact your approach to making work while in the studio?
CC: Biblical movies. Epic biblical movies. There is a certain way that shots are framed like paintings. Cartoons. And then with painting: anything from soul to death metal.
F-D: What does having a physical space to make art in mean for your process, and how do you make your space work for you?
CC: I'm just able to make everything available. There are so many different ideas and things that I’m working on at any given time-- this space gives me the ability to research, draw, and paint all in the same place, which gives everything a cohesive oneness.
F-D: Is there something you are currently working on, or are excited about starting that you can tell us about?
CC: I have a solo show coming up at the Taft Museum of Art. It’s gonna be my interpretation of the galleries within the Museum. I’ll be referencing the Renaissance era, the Watch and Keystone Galleries, the Duncanson murals and the Asian galleries. I’m touching on every facet of my work.
F-D: Do you see your work as relating to any current movement or direction in visual art or culture? Which other artists might your work be in conversation with?
CC: Not really. I see it as just me working in a modernist fashion. I’m into the 80’s. I see these as combustions of joy, perhaps into vibrant, lyrical compositions. Some artists that I relate to might be the Surrealists, representational Abstraction, I think the Cubist world is where my work is derived from. Perhaps the Futurists.
F-D: Do you have a motto or creed that as an artist you live by?
CC: You never get a second chance to make a first impression. Always be your best critic. And always ask yourself if this is in fact the best that you can do. Everything happens for a reason.
F-D: When asked; what do you tell people you do for a living?
CC: Depends on whose asking. It depends on the environment. It really depends on who is asking. I never lie, but I will vary what I introduce first. Sometimes I say I'm an artist, sometimes a teacher and artist. In some crowds I will say I'm a painter. All of these titles mean different things to different groups of people.
F-D: What risks have you taken in your work, or for your work?
CC: I think it would be more or less for my work. And it would have to be financial risk, and prioritizing what’s important to me. Lifestyle changes. Not allowing my excesses to get the best of me. There was a time when I allowed substances and people to influence me, more so people. So I allowed those things to change. I would call that more survival than sacrifices. And feeling comfortable with it.
F-D: Words of wisdom?… a motto, favorite quote?
CC: Don’t do anything you don’t want to do. That’s hard to do. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, and don’t be afraid to help others. Never say no. If you feel overwhelmed, find a way to do it all.
F-D: Are you involved in any upcoming shows or events? Where and when?
CC: Like I mentioned, I have the Taft show. I have a few paintings over at Your Friends and Neighbors. I’ll also have some work up at the Art Beyond Boundaries 10th anniversary show in January. More murals. I’m in the planning of doing a residency at Blue Ash Schools and maybe at Marimont. I’m also the Resident Artist at CPS Schools on Fridays. And I’m still teaching, so it’s a lot of stuff. So, it’s gonna get a little crazy in here.