Thursday, September 12, 2013

Kenny Cole, My Poems, and Parabellum

Artist Kenny Cole has started to immerse in his massive project, Parabellum, which is due to show at the University of Maine Museum of Art (UMMA) in January. He is attempting to paint four paintings a day, five days a week, through December, for a total of 246. In one of the greatest honors--if not the greatest honor--of my literary life, Kenny has decided to collaborate with me by using my poetry in the canvases. I supplied him with fifteen poems, and it is my intention to create a chapbook to accompany Parabellum.

But back to the artist. Kenny has already established himself as a ferocious and prolific voice. It is impossible not to feel the passion exude off his grotesque and subversive pieces. And you will be further stung because his theme is a continuous assault on the idiocy of war, greed and atrocity. If his work did not invoke the great specter of justice denied, it would still be indelible and momentous: but it does so invoke. Kenny overwhelms viewers' resistance and thrusts them into emotional and philosophical turmoil. His canvases teem, riot, roil and foam. The pulse of his anger and outrage shrieks. To be in a room of Cole art is to be surrounded by an ethico-psychical typhoon.

See art from his many previous shows at the link below. Be prepared to feel the utter wrongness of the Empire’s bellicose transgressions against land, flesh,and soul:

To read his journal on Parabellum, go here:

I have known Kenny for a number of years now, and in my opinion, Parabellum is his most prodigious and multifaceted work. Having said that, I confess that I have only a nebulous understanding of the conceptual armature of the project: however, two important points here: (a) I believe Kenny wants the boundaries and layers, both physical and conceptual, to be ambiguous and permeable, (b) Parabellum is an epic quest of the imagination, quite daring in scope. It pushes the art-poetry nexus into multidimensions of space-time.

The basic thread through this aesthetic maze is a fictional character, an artist named Bans Revere. Revere goes pretty much mad around the end of the 19th century, driven into volatile reveries, titantic doubts and nightmarish thoughtscapes. The culprit? The very real horrors of war itself. This madness fuels bizarre and feverish spates of creation, as Revere accuses, condemns and personally deteriorates. He paints over what he has already painted, resulting in a palimpsest-like effect. Some of these layerings are brushed on old maps and perhaps flesh (or the psychic flesh of the madman), but the camouflage of the previous work is only partial, lending a weird and uncomfortable feel which implies that linear time is gone. Revere's odd portrayals and visual rants are peppered with symbolisms, flourishes and color storms, all of which speak of utter anguish. He climbs a summit of agony that, given the hellish wrongs of war, seems shockingly justified.

Kenny is creating his own mythology here, but even that is frayed. The audience is left with tattered strands piercing through other strands, all of it seen through the deranged lens of Revere. The artwork, maybe, is like a visual journal of Revere’s outpourings, yet jumbled into bayonet-torn insights. It is a metamorphosis that sacrifices patterns of regimented thought for brilliant psychosis.

But Parabellum is not done. The next aspect of the story is that Revere, perhaps ashamed, hides his work under wallpaper (or something). Revere dies and the location of his layered art suffers from dilapidation. When Revere’s trove is discovered, in our time, hidden behind banal cover in a decaying home, it is heavily disfigured. So you get disfigurement by nature on top of the initial derangement. I think the underlying theme is this: we can deny the past, but it will reappear still, despite fearful repression, in a stronger, more immediate and dangerous state. The greater the denial, the closer we edge toward irredeemable insanity.

Indeed, war has initiated this progression in our global age. It butchers, gets buried, and reappears to butcher even worse, in new and more efficient forms. War, then, is like a cancer that adapts to the body of our society, and never gives up.

Although it serves as a temporary shield, denial magnifies what it delays. Parabellum suggests that unless we face the infernal magnitude of our actions, we are doomed not only to repeat them, but also to die, as a species, from them.

My analysis above is sketchy and feeble. Kenny wants us to struggle with the depths of Parabellum. It is not meant to be easy to assimilate. I am certain this project, in its vision, is a work of genius. And I know that Kenny’s talent will serve as a formidable and capable conduit. Kenny Cole has reached that rare state where vision and expression merge, resulting in exquisite sensory prophecy.

I think the next four months for him will be more than intense, a spiritual quest. Greatness will be produced, I have no doubt. And Kenny will not be the same person once he emerges, in January, on the other side.


PS: here is a fragment of the work he has shared with me, including part of my poem, “God Explains War.”


  1. Thank you so kindly Chris! You've just brought new dimensions to my project...and helped me form it just that much more. I've had the basic structure of it for a while, but now as it is manifesting itself and I am beginning to get feedback, like yours, it has come alive and begun its journey into the stream of human consciousness. These next four months will be an intense hopeful period of creativity for me as I form the imagery that will charge "Parabellum" with an energy force that will inspire and uplift those who cross paths with it, to believe that we can change our course...and live a precious and aesthetic life in the process. Art is creativity, war is destruction. Sometimes I think it's just that simple!

    1. I'm honored to help in whatever small way I can. The momentum of Parabellum, and even more your continuous artistic journey, are just what we need--desperately.

      I wish you the very best of luck and strength over these next four months.