When I turned eighteen years old, my grandfather stressed the importance of voting by taking me to a tree where he was told that African-Americans were lynched by their neckties on their way to vote. The experience left a profound impression in my mind.” Kevin Cole 1990
The Signs of the Times series began when I moved to Atlanta in 1985. Several works in this series respond directly to the artist’s experiences in Atlanta; two are in the collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia (MOCA, GA). The title corresponds to the signature song from the album Sign o’ the Times (1987) by the artist known as Prince. I used the song admired by my students as a vehicle to discuss the subjects raised by its lyrics: AIDS, poverty, and homelessness. Often the conversation turned to current events in Atlanta, including gang violence. . The Signs of the Times series, inclusive of over twenty-five mixed media paintings and several drawings, inspired Cole’s large public art commission for the Atlanta City Hall, The Atlanta Daily Agenda (1989–90), which won an Urban Design Award for Public Art in 1989.
Earlier work in Signs of the Times suspends signs, literal and symbolic, within a labyrinthine field of intertwined clothes, ribbons, bows, scarves and yes, neckties. The brightly colored and patterned ripples of the interlaced elements—reminiscent as they are of early illuminated manuscript folios—instill an element of the carnivalesque into “Gordian knot.” In Signs of the Times: The Struggle of the Families (1988), silhouettes of black families on signboards float amid of my “signature interlace” which includes an American flag tied in a knot. My artistic engagement with lynching differs markedly from that of the many artists who have taken up this imagery. All three are related to a larger body of work called The Color of Music, a series that is non-sequential and open-ended, owing to Cole’s deep interest in music. My maternal grandmother [Moriah McGlounce] owned a nightclub in Birdsong, Arkansas—a place Cole remembers fondly, and where he once met B.B. King. Aesthetic interpretations of the sound with color and movement, the Color of Music pays homage to great artists such as Thelonius Monk, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, and to the music Cole favors, such as jazz, blues, and gospel. The scales of the music and how Cole hears them inform his palette and the tonal variations he uses.