Kenny Cole


Flood 26

Flood 036, 2014

Flood was generated, for me, through a random Yahoo News item that caught my attention. The article was about the vanishing Moken Sea Nomads of Thailand/Myanmar. Every once in a while I’ll read most or all of a comment stream. I love their often wild and woolly nature, have transcribed some into past drawings and after reading this article I felt ready to try it again. The comments that followed this particular article ended up being around 30,000 words. I transcribed, or painted these comments on to 7” x 8.5” drawing paper using gouache, an opaque watercolor medium.  It was important that I considered these transcriptions as works of art, thus I “painted” them and the compositional space of the picture plane or rectangle took precedence over the proper rules for ending sentences, words or shaping paragraphs. I ran the text right to the edge of the drawing paper even if it cut into a word in an unreadable way. Following these rules, the full text of the 30,000-word comment stream led me to create a total 320 drawings. Additionally I circled out, within this text the story of Noah’s Ark, as written in the bible, through the story of the Tower of Babel, on through to the beginning of the story of Abraham. “Flood” was exhibited in its complete form at BUOY in Kittery, Maine From July 10 through September 5, 2015.

(The following is an excerpt from an interview published in 2014 Artvoices Magazine 7th Annual Winter Basel issue.)

Ellen Caldwell: In your recent series “Flood,” you juxtapose Internet commentary following an article about the alleged decline of the nomadic Moken people of Myanmar with biblical verses about Noah’s epic. These seemingly chance parallels of texts end up aligning quite beautifully and tragically in exploring the current state of both our environmental and personal communicative degradation. Highlighting the comment section of our media is so interesting to me, because I think we often see a real break down of humanity there. Could you speak to this a bit?

Kenny Cole: But, despite this I also see a genuine struggle to find truth. We are all uninformed about something, or we all hold our own set of false ideas or myths that we might not recognize or acknowledge. We may know a lot about some things but no one knows everything about everything. An astrophysicist may not know how to lay a hardwood floor for example, so he probably has no business even discussing how it’s done, though he might add an interesting insight.

As far as the world’s problems go, I think that we really need all the help we can get and I guess I am willing to sift through a wild and wooly online comment stream to tease out truths. People say dumb things, but if we really listen there is usually a “truth” in there somewhere. We tend to have our own beliefs and raise a defense when we feel that our beliefs are challenged, so that’s probably the “degradation” part of this thing we call humanity.

As far as being an artist and approaching the world’s problems through an aesthetic process, which in this case is the drawing of a comment stream, I find myself reading and re-reading this text in order to transcribe it. This gives me a deeper insight into what is being said. I hear rhythms, see patterns, make connections with the ancient ideas, symbols and archetypes of the biblical themes. It’s a far cry from the modern phenomenon of constantly being interrupted with communication that can barely be processed. I like the idea of freezing this snippet of modern communication into a work of art.

 “The effect of the work, whether one reads its contents or not, is of an analogue for the digital onslaught that our devices connect us to on a daily basis (the gallery is also littered with wood, dummy smart phones). It is a common trope to say we are bombarded by images but we are also flooded with an unstoppable stream of words, adding to the existing oceans of writing we will never have time to explore. Do we actually read the text of the Bible and attempt to make first hand sense of this mysterious document, at the creative center of Western Culture, or do we float along on the 30,000 word comment stream, of half formed thoughts tossed off in a rage by amateur thinkers, relating to an article we will soon forget. I suspect most of us will choose the latter, and I often do.” – (2015 Seasick Magazine / Hurricane season issue “Flood” review by Narciso Philistratus)

Ellen Caldwell: How do you see the virtual and digital world impacting our engagement with the everyday and ephemeral?

Kenny Cole: Well, although I do not quite consider myself a painter, I see myself as trying to save painting! Painting has died many times before, but it has a very strange persistence. It has permanence and speaks a great deal to our condition as animals that build endless and varied structures, for habitation and shelter. There are 10 gazillion walls in the world that we have created and each one begs to hold some kind of message or vision that can speak to us or transform the space it’s in. This is just a phenomenon of our existence.

The digital world exists near this, but functions away and outside of our physical structures. It’s incredibly seductive and addictive, but I feel that it also has an emptiness and limitation in terms of satisfying our need for feeling human. Painting can address our need to feel human nicely … Something like painting is a form that can capture things and hold them before us to see if we want to think about them for a longer while.


Flood 037

Flood 037, 2014

Flood 038

Flood 038, 2014

Flood 039

Flood 039, 2014

Flood 040

Flood 040, 2014


After winning a Charles Burchfield scholarship in 1976, Kenny Cole studied drawing at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York, earning a B.F.A. in 1981. Upon graduation he was confronted with a burgeoning neo-expressionist art scene in New York City’s East Village, thus his work adopted an edgy, graphic, second-wave graffiti-like sensibility. He joined the planning committee of City Without Walls Gallery in 1983 and exhibited extensively in alternative spaces in and around New York City until moving to Maine in 1994. Here he has continued to exhibit in alternative spaces, has helped organize political art actions with the Union of Maine Visual Artists and served for 10 years on the board of directors at Waterfall Arts in Belfast. Cole was awarded the 2012 Spring Monhegan Island Artists Residency and exhibited an interactive solo installation at the University of Maine Museum of Art’s Zillman Gallery in January 2014. He currently is exhibiting a window installation at the Engine in Biddeford, Maine.