ARTIST IN THE SPOTLIGHT | John Cox IN THE RAW
Welcome back to Cacique’s Artist In The Spotlight series - a journey into a thriving Bahamian art scene and a look at some of our most celebrated talents, making waves in the islands and around the world. In this episode, we are chatting with one of the bahamas’ most defining artists of the modern era - john cox - an avant-garde artistic explorer whose body of work is as impressive and complex as the tattooed canvas of his skin.
For this interview, we were privileged to visit John Cox in his home studio. In supreme contrast to the uber-hip space that John commands as Art Director of Baha Mar’s The Current (an experiential hub for Bahamian art), Cox’s home studio is somewhat humbling. A cross between the mad scientist’s basement and the rock band’s garage, this is John’s self-confessed “broke down ol’ car” that still takes him on surprisingly long journeys. Time to jump in the backseat and go for a ride. “But watch out,” said John Cox. “There’s no suspension.”
CACIQUE. What inspires you ? What inspires particular pieces ?
John. I am moved by my surroundings. I will make moves to give a voice to something I want to have heard or experienced. For example, my Kimono/Geisha series is built on a cultural and historical comparison with traditional Japanese geisha customs and our local hospitality industry. The early geishas concerned themselves greatly with service and saw this as the utmost form of creative expression. A pure concept, one that we all set out to recreate for our own hospitality industries. Both, when executed in the purest contexts and untainted by greed, exploitation or distortion possess any dynamic sensory or emotional experience. Likewise, when either loose balance, expectations don’t align with intentions and tensions result. My series tries to harness aspects of both of these conditions.
C. How do you know when a piece is finished ?
J. Usually, when it feels like my mind is ready to start the next one. I hardly ever work on pieces in isolation. My individual works are all part of a larger framework that I am exploring at any particular time, so each piece comes together in a way that supports a greater and ongoing idea or theme.
C. As the Bahamian art scene expands, what are some of the growing pains ?
J. My biggest concern is that, we, as a community, mistake the forest for the trees. I think in a lot of instances, artists seek validation from within their own bases. This can be very helpful in shaping one’s sense of self, but if not checked it could also focus too much on isolation and not enough on the importance of bridging and connectivity. As this community grows, we must focus creating better internal support and fluid, dynamic dialogue. If we can see diversity as an asset, I think we will go very far.
C. Professionally, what is your goal ?
J. To keep growing! I have been very blessed with the various opportunities that have presented themselves in my career thus far. My goal is to be a positive example for the community at large and exercise a creative brand of leadership in ways that empower a younger generation of artists to succeed me. I’d also like to design and put in place the mechanisms and personnel to expand the scope of The Current’s portfolio to support a broader cultural agenda including an eco-design initiative.
C. What work or element of art do you enjoy the most?
J. I could make kimonos all day if I had the time. One day, I want to go to Japan and do a residency in a Kimono factory. I enjoy making additions to the “This is How Much I Love You!” series. Right now I am looking forward to making more Fight Paintings as well.
I most enjoy the ‘making’ of things. I have never been one that was any good at creating illusions so I've always made things instead. I figured there was no trickery in the structure of a ‘thing’. My good friend and colleague Heino Schmidt would always say “be honest” and I support this. Even when I am working two-dimensionally, I think of the process as an object being made - it just feels more responsible.
C. Art Culture is booming in the Bahamas - what has been a catalyst for this ?
J. There has been steady growth within the local art scene over the past three decades for sure. I believe this is due to the platforms that have emerged, allowing for greater dialogue and exchange amongst artists both regionally and internationally. NAGB was crucial in increasing a critical art appreciation in the country. Additionally, the smaller privately run spaces like Hillside House, The D’Aguilar Art Foundation, Doongalik Studios, Popopstudios and Studio NINE have all helped shape the DNA of the contemporary art scene. I also think that the critical discourse at the College of The Bahamas has, over the years, helped define the philosophical framework around which many emerging Bahamian artists found their voice. The raw courage and discipline that many of these artists exercised in order to expand the horizons of their practice has acted as a firm gateway for younger artists. This new injection of talent will undoubtedly own the responsibility of being a contemporary creative body that represents The Bahamas proudly.
C. What's next for Bahamian art ?
J. More art by more artists. More visibility and ultimately more global recognition. I would love to see a greater integration into the 'mainstream'.
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At Cacique, we love to showcase our colourful art scene and the characters that create its distinct flair. For more information on John Cox or any of our other fabulous Artists In The Spotlight, or to find out about curating a unique event, feel free to contact us.
Looking forward to the next chat! SMS ;)