January 19

Maine artist Kenny Cole opens new exhibition

‘Parabellum' will be on view at the UMaine Museum of Art through March.

By Bob Keyes bkeyes@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

BANGOR — Kenny Cole is many things.

click image to enlarge

Artist Kenny Cole with some of his works in the installation “Parabellum,” which is showing in the Zillman Gallery at the University of Maine Museum of Art in Bangor. The show features paintings by Cole and poetry by Chris Crittenden.

Photos by Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

The front piece of the doors in Kenny Cole's exhibit "Parabellum" are designed to be flag-like. The exhibit opened this past week at the University of Maine Museum of Art in Bangor.

Additional Photos Below

IF YOU GO

‘PARABELLUM’

WHEN: On view through March 22; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Saturday

WHERE: University of Maine Museum of Art, 40 Harlow St., Bangor

HOW MUCH: Free

INFO: 561-3350 or umma.umaine.edu

Painter. Activist. Carpenter.

With his latest installation, we can add storyteller to that list.

Cole, 55, rewrites a bit of Civil War history with “Parabellum,” an interactive painting installation in the Zillman Gallery at the University of Maine Museum of Art in Bangor.

He describes it as “a culture-jamming, docu-fiction activism work of art, which rewrites the past in order to guide us into the future.”

In other words, it’s another in Cole’s continuing series of anti-war art that questions one of the tenets of American foreign policy, which goes back to the days of Plato and from which Cole derived the name for this exhibition:

Si vis pacem, para bellum.

Translated from Latin, that means, “If you want peace, prepare for war.”

“It’s hard to argue against that, right?” Cole asked, as he applied the final touches to his installation last week. “But” – there’s always a “but” with Cole, who has made his name challenging authority and widely held beliefs and ideas – “call me naive, but we have to start somewhere. Art is a great place to start.”

For this piece, Cole takes on the persona of Bains Revere, a fictional Civil War veteran and outsider artist who expresses his distaste for war, as well as his pacifist views, by creating 82 two-sided canvases. On the outside, the paintings resemble flags, with cultural motifs painted almost entirely in vermillion. The hinged, box-like canvases open up, revealing the poetry of Cole’s co-conspirator and real-life friend Chris Crittenden.

“He can’t retreat, only shoot,” the poet writes. “Wherever he goes they tell him to shoot.”

There are two stories here: The story of the art itself, in which Cole immerses himself as the character in his fiction. And then there’s the story of artist, who arrived in Maine in 1993 to escape the chaotic city life of New York and found his activist voice at just about the time he was ready to give up art entirely.

We’ll start with the story behind the art, “Parabellum.”

Cole has been thinking about the broad theme of pacifism for many years. He long ago created the character Bains Revere in his imagination, conjuring the name from an anagram of a friend named Brian Reeves. He liked the way it sounded, and thought Bains was an appropriate name for someone who would have fought in the Civil War.

OLD PAPERS PROVIDED THE SPARK

The particulars of this exhibition presented themselves when Cole found a trove of newspapers from the 1890s between the finished floor and subfloor of his old farmhouse in Monroe.

The papers offered a window to the late 19th century, and prompted Cole to think about his old friend Bains Revere. He imagined Revere as an aging veteran, and a reluctant one at that, who was given the unflattering title of straggler during the war, as one who fearfully shirked his duty and was shunned as a coward or traitor.

In real life, some Union generals threatened stragglers with execution, although Union Army commander Ulysses S. Grant tolerated the stragglers, empathizing with their panic and sympathizing with their fears.

In Cole’s world, Revere was born in Sangerville in 1840, and died there in 1902.

In real life, Sangerville also was the home of Hiram Maxim, who is best known as the inventor of the automatic machine gun.

In Cole’s telling of this tale, Revere and Maxim were lifetime friends. Revere admired his friend’s intelligence as an inventor, but was troubled that Maxim invented a weapon that made killing more efficient.

Cole imagines it was this shift in his friend’s life that pushed Revere toward pacifism.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

The front piece of the doors in Kenny Cole's exhibit "Parabellum" are designed to be flag-like. The exhibit opened this past week at the University of Maine Museum of Art in Bangor.

click image to enlarge

The inside cover of the doors, left, of Kenny Cole's exhibit "Parabellum" are designed to represent battle maps, though the artist explains they are not created based on actual battle maps.

click image to enlarge

The front piece of the doors in Kenny Cole's exhibit "Parabellum" are designed to be flag-like.

click image to enlarge

The surface and words revealed by opening the doors of Kenny Cole's exhibit Parabellum are a corporeal entity Cole explains, representing the emotional and physical effect of war on people.

  


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