My Soapbox: Cedric Michael Cox, artist

Cedric Michael Cox may be the busiest – and most accessible – artist in Cincinnati. Cox, 36, of Over-the-Rhine, doesn’t really have time for negative vibes or that whole artistic sullen thing. 

The 1999 graduate of the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture Art and Planning is as vibrant as his paintings, as intricate as his drawings and as driven as his rock band is loud. Just this year alone his work has been featured in seven group or solo exhibitions from New York to California – with a couple of stops in Chicago. He was awarded second place at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry Juried Competition and awarded in the top three applicants in the Black Art in America Juried exhibition for the Harlem Fine Art Show. 

Now, he’s been preparing for his new exhibition, Siegfried’s Sonata at the PAC Gallery in East Walnut Hills, which will feature all new paintings. The show opens Nov. 9 with a reception that runs from 6 to 9 p.m. The show runs through Dec. 8, with Cox hosting an informal gallery talk Nov. 15.

Soapbox chatted with Cox about his work, where he pulls his inspiration from and how this show – inspired by a Richard Wagner opera and the 1981 movie “Excalibur” depicts an always changing artist.

Q: You are one of the busiest artists in town. How do you find time to work?
A:  I am very busy, but as long as I take the time to handle the business in the studio, I feel like I have control of everything else. It’s when I’m not working in the studio painting and drawing that everything else seems to overwhelm me. As long as I make time to do that, everything else falls into place naturally.  You know that as much energy as you put in, you are going to get out. 

Q: How does your work in art education (ArtWorks mural, Visionaries and Voices) influence your work? 
A: It all influences my art. I think in these new paintings there’s a lot of attention to the negative space. A lot of my newer work has an atmospheric element to it and there is a spatial quality between the positive and negative space. The Art Works murals I did for Avondale was a major influence on that – on how I really just wanted to see my work. 

I think I have an obligation to the community when I work in the studio, whether it is on my stuff or if it is for a collaborative project. I have to put my best foot forward because I know my students are watching and the community is watching. It’s important to be true to myself; and what is true to myself is recognizing that I have an audience and to surprise them and to surprise myself. 

Q: When did you know you were an artist?
A:  I used to watch my dad draw while at the dinner table, and that always intrigued me. I think kids gravitate toward art to be able to articulate the world around them. For me, thinking I had ability or talent that I wanted to pursue, that developed as early as grade school.  It was a way for me to communicate with people I would not normally have a way to communicate with. It was a confidence builder.

Q: How do you survive as an artist?
A: My survival has to do with my ability to share. That’s the key. And work is key. It is the four-letter word that matters the most. I’m not the most prolific painter, but I am creating work that matters to me, and each piece at a time is better than the next. I want that. 

Q: Do you see the work before you have a paintbrush in your hand? 
A: I do. When I attack the blank canvas or the blank sheet of paper, there is a clear direction based on my interests and where I want to take my work in that moment in time in my life. 

Q: How would you define your work now, for this upcoming show?
A: What I want people to say about my work now is he is a representational abstract artist. His work is inspired by energy, pulse and the rhythm of what inspires him - which is various themes and topics. You are seeing this new birth of an artist who is going far beyond just the cityscape stuff. 

Q: What does the name of your new solo show mean to your work?
A: My work has more of an atmospheric quality, inspired by the work of painter George Inness. I was asked to give a talk last year at the Taft on Inness, and in studying his work and looking at other artists, I have a vision wanting my work to have a more atmospheric quality. 

The name Siegfried Sonata comes from that lecture. When I was doing that talk, I described Inness’ paintings as luminous, and I made a reference to the director of the 1981 movie, “Excalibur,” who uses the forest as a metaphor for spiritual growth and development. He used lighting elements in the forest so they have a luminous glow. I thought it was very interesting to include this movie with imagery that inspires me and Inness’ paintings that inspire me. And it sounded better than New Paintings by Cedric Michael Cox.    

Q: You play bass guitar in the grind, heavy-metal band Morticite. How does music affect your new pieces?
A: When it comes down my songwriting, there are different riffs played together that make the whole. That is what is happening with these paintings. Along with these fragmentized, atmospheric images that reference nature, there are these musical bundles of energy that reference anatomy, the inner spirit and music. They are all like separate drawings put together on one canvas. I have done more drawings for this exhibition than I’ve ever done. There is more planning in this body of work. 

Q: How does mood affect your new work?
A: I think anybody’s work is a reflection of who they are and where they are going. I think my main drive is pride and what is expected of me: To create work that inspires and evokes your mind. It’s a fun thing. My imagery isn’t sad. It doesn’t question anything. It’s not gloomy. It’s a visual passion. 

Q: How to do you see the world?
A: As an opportunity. As opportunity to excel. 

By Chris Graves
Chris Graves is the assistant vice president of digital and social media at the Powers Agency.
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