Kenny Cole’s Parabellum, which includes my poetry, launched at the University of Maine Museum of Art (UMMA) on January 17 and will feature in its Zillman Gallery until March 22. I’ve blogged about Kenny’s art before--his ferocious criticism of war; his utterly original style that crosses dimensions and mediums; his manic prolific intensity; and his brilliant modulations of satire and caricature--and yet nothing can describe how I felt when I saw the folding, three-layered canvases of Parabellum. Keep in mind that this exhibit covered four walls of a fairly small room, certainly an inundative effect. Given the Zillman Gallery's position in the museum, near the front, and its shadowless lighting and hermetic feel, the space was clearly designed to showcase a single artist with encompassing force. Here is a photo of the two of us at the opening, “co-conspirators” according to Kenny:
The canvases behind behind us co-conspirators are like books in that they swing open to reveal layers. The bottom layer behind all the canvases, on all four walls, contains my writing (see the links to some images below). It is quite impossible to truly express how special this felt: my words so wonderfully encapsulated by someone whose fiery inspiration wells up from the tempestuous madhouses of the subconscious--much in the way I seek out my muses when I write. Kenny had to break my poems into blocks of phrase, and decide which blocks to put inside which square blocks of canvas. He informed me that he spent a great deal of time on it, immersing in my voice. Witnessing how he chose to parse me, I think he has brilliantly engaged with my ecstatic process, perhaps more than anyone else (with one exception: artist Shanna Wheelock, with whom I have lived with for the last fourteen years); and, therefore, he has heard my heart in a fascinating and unique way, the gift of a full psychic embrace.
Leaving aside Kenny’s genius and sui generis expression, there is a further sense in which he alloyed with my thoughts: on the level of justice. We are both horrified by war and the extreme sickness of behavior inside and around it. War is the most obvious, violent, and disgusting expression of a great psychological blockage in the collective conscious of our society. Somehow--and this is so astounding--we citizens casually accept war, unthinkingly take it up as a practice, support it with our tax dollars, even as the entire bellicose ritual, greased with killing and hate, murders, maims or displaces great masses of people, not to mention the desecration of animals and Earth--all of it exploited by Big Money.
The classic book on this global tragedy of blood continues to be ignored and ultra-marginalized: War Is a Racket written by Smedley Butler. Butler was a Major General, received two Congressional Medals of Honor, a Distinguished Service Medal, and ran as a Republican candidate for Senate in 1932. You can read his entire treatise here:
Here is a quote from page one:
In the World War [I] a mere handful garnered the profits of the conflict. At least 21,000 new millionaires and billionaires were made in the United States during the World War. That many admitted their huge blood gains in their income tax returns. How many other war millionaires falsified their tax returns no one knows.
How many of these war millionaires shouldered a rifle? How many of them dug a trench? How many of them knew what it meant to go hungry in a rat-infested dug-out? How many of them spent sleepless, frightened nights, ducking shells and shrapnel and machine gun bullets? How many of them parried a bayonet thrust of an enemy? How many of them were wounded or killed in battle?
Kenny Cole knows war is a racket, and he brings three powerful strands together: his genius, its expression, and, in the footsteps of Butler, a vivid castigation of the infernal ways of organized massive bloodshed. Of critical import, Kenny conducts his condemnation so as to draw the audience into his red-emphasizing work. We are trained by the media not to hear, not to see, not to react, even when presented with the deaths of tens of thousands of innocents. Kenny chips away at the colossal shields of denial with a mighty skill. His paintbrush is also a psychic chisel, expertly applied.
Perhaps the greatest part of Kenny's approach is this: he leads his audience not only see war's evil, but also to keep the door of insight open, if only a crack, long after viewing his fantastical illuminations.
Congratulations, Kenny Cole, on Parabellum!
PS: Below are some links to Kenny's art. Also, below is one of the poems that was used in Parabellum.
Kenny Cole’s main website:
The current UMMA description and official photographs of Parabellum:
Another UMMA link (one that might last after March 22, when Parabellum closes):
And Kenny’s catalogue associated with Parabellum:
Kenny’s work-blog on Parabellum:
My previous reviews of Kenny Cole and/or Parabellum:
Here is the poem “Weapon Possessed," one of several used in Parabellum:
bitten by his rifle,
the trigger a sting
swelling into his finger,
he can’t retreat, only shoot,
wherever he goes they
tell him to shoot,
and his gun agrees,
poisons his kindness,
owns him like a scorpion
that whips across culture,
between the eyes.
he can’t accept
this werewolf life
of murder and being a scared father,
of serving peace but cradling
a metal demon-baby instead--
knowing it wants
to jump in and fight,
to kick angry in his arms,
get hot, snarl, rage.
and when it is done vomiting death
it goes back to its coffin
in a metal locker,
below the picture of his wife
("Weapon Possessed" was originally published in Raving Dove, and nominated for the Best of the Net Award)