July 24, 2013

Art: Exhibit honors ‘dean of Louisville’s African-American artists’

One of the world’s best traditions, both past and present, is to celebrate those who have gone before us. Such is the case with the exhibition “Selected Works of G.C. Coxe.” It is indeed a labor of love by his friends, co-workers and mentees.

Gloucester Caliman Coxe was a larger-than-life abstract painter who came of age in segregated Louisville. He attended Central Colored High School and later became one of the first African-Americans to graduate from U of L with a fine arts degree. He eventually co-founded the Louisville Art Workshop at 35th and Del Park in the 1960s, one of the reasons he earned the moniker “dean of Louisville’s African-American artists.”

Many of his former students loaned work for this small but high-quality show. It is curated by Dr. Robert Douglas, just one of the many important Louisvillians who worked with and learned from Coxe.

Sculptor Ed Hamilton was another. He wrote in his autobiography, “The Birth of An Artist: A Journey of Discovery,” that his relationship with Coxe came about because he was “an African-American student graduating from a four-year accredited art school, but I had to turn to the African-American community to properly showcase my artistic dreams and talents. That group turned out to be the Louisville Art Workshop …”

Hamilton’s exhibition wall text further explains that Coxe “became the man that I looked up to and for answers, and if you knew G.C., he had an answer for pretty much everything as it related to his passion, painting and philosophizing.

A genius, a giant, an engineer, a chance-taker, a carpenter and, above all, a genuine human being who loved life, loved people and loved his art. I would not give anything for my time spent with this man, whom I called my father, my friend and, above all, one hell of a painter.”

Besides celebrating the bond he had with fellow artists, the exhibition confirms that Hamilton is right — Coxe is one hell of a painter. All it takes to prove that is to see his oil on canvas “Gemini” series from the 1970s, with its flowing waves that, upon close inspection, reveal a resemblance to women’s anatomy.

He occasionally experimented with mixed media/sculptural art, such as in outstanding “Vases No. 1,” created in 1969, made with bent and straight wires covered in light blue oil paint. One of his last works, with the clever misnomer, is “All White” from 1995, composed of jutting slabs of color.

The Louisville Art Workshop closed in 1973. Coxe’s last one-person exhibition was a retrospective in 1995, four years before his death at 92.

Douglas is in the process of writing a book on the artist, titled “An American Genius or an African Bwana Mtomo: The Life and Art of G. Caliman Coxe.”

 

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