Artist Renee Cox Presents Layered Collage Exhibit in NYC –

As an artist working through photography, collage and multimedia installation, Renee Cox thinks big. Throughout her three-decade career, she has been bold, brash, relentless and, above all, unrepentant. It is with the aim of creating a body of work that envisions a different reality than we have ever seen before.

“I want my work to dominate the world and to have this world created by me, where everything merges: gender, people and kindness,” Cox said in a recent phone interview.

Cox is currently the subject of a solo exhibition, titled “Soul Culture”, at the recently opened Hannah Traore Gallery in New York. Until May 28, the exhibition presents a series of recent works that Cox loosely calls “portraits”, which in the hands of the artist take the form of three-dimensional sculptural collages composed of a few images that have been reconfigured , resized and digitally reproduced. thousands of times to create a single portrait.

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The genesis of “Soul Culture” began in Bali in 2013. Cox was vacationing at a luxury resort on the Indonesian island and brought with her the audiobook “Living the Liberated Life and Managing the Painful Body.” by Eckhart Tolle, a spiritual teacher and self-help author. Tolle’s message wasn’t all that different from what other spiritual leaders of his ilk might say, but for Cox it resonated because he was saying all the right things, at the right time, in the right place. That was exactly what she needed to hear: stop waiting for the world to validate you.

As a teacher, it’s advice she’s given to students, at Columbia, NYU, and Yale, over the years in one form or another. “My purpose in life is to free graduate students from themselves,” she said. “You have to have confidence in yourself and believe in what you are doing. The best idea you will have will come from the soul. This is where the idea is pure.

A major turning point in his career came in 2001, when then-New York City Mayor Rudy Guiliani called for a “decency panel” to be created after his 1996 photographic polyptych. Yo Mama’s Last Supper was presented at the Brooklyn Museum as part of a group exhibition entitled “Committed to the Image: Contemporary Black Photographers”. In the work, Cox stands in the center, in place of Christ, entirely nude, arms outstretched.

Cox has never backed down from Guiliani or her attorneys but, she says the art world hasn’t come to her defense, “it was the actors, directors and filmmakers who spoke out on my behalf.”

A collage of layers showing three heads of Kerry James Marshall and several arms and other objects.

Rene Cox, The Marker Paradigm Shift2016.
Courtesy of the artist and Hannah Traore Gallery, New York

Cox’s last solo exhibition in New York was in 2006, a year after she left the Robert Miller Gallery, which had represented her for eight years. Hannah Traore, the gallery’s founder, had contacted Cox when she was still planning her gallery’s inaugural lineup and said she considered it a dream come true when Cox, whom she called her “icon”, had agreed to do an exhibition. “Renee does everything with such intent,” Traore said, adding that Cox’s art “must be seen in person to fully appreciate its complexity and depth.”

Perhaps best known for her “Raje” series of late-’90s Wonder Woman-inspired self-portraits, Cox presents work in “Soul Culture” that takes her interest in mixing disparate things one step further through this which she calls “little people,” collaged pieces that merge aliens, pre-Columbian art, Afro-futurist imagery, and Japanese characters.

These composite people are those who populate his imaginary world, refuge and controlled by blacks and browns. Based on the philosophy of Jamaican activist Marcus Garvey: “Garvey wanted to create, maintain and elevate black pride to improve the lives of black people everywhere,” Cox explained.

Cox ultimately intends for his little people to tower over viewers, standing seven feet tall. “I called them little people because they were the first to emerge after I changed my thoughts,” she said. “They are meant to be models for much larger sculptures that I would like to make.”

A layered square collage where the central imagery is a diamond and various tendrils and heads.

Rene Cox, An Infinite Spirit (Black Girl Magic)2016.
Courtesy of the artist and Hannah Traore Gallery, New York

On display are both standard photographs, what Cox calls “flat” images, and his superimposed three-dimensional cutouts which are stacked and inverted “portraits,” influenced by his research into mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot’s theories of sacred geometry and the fractals. In An Infinite Spirit (Black Girl Magic)as of 2016, Cox manipulates hundreds of versions and sections of the same portrait, changing their size, color and orientation and placing them on different planes to create an otherworldly “portrait” that becomes almost spiritual .

“Fractals are the same images that can be the size of a dot on a pinhead or the size of the Empire State Building,” Cox said. “When you start playing with this aspect, you can turn one thing into other things.”

A sculptural collage that shows a two-headed man whose torso is made up of various arms.  It is surrounded by green leaves with brown roots.

Rene Cox, The Awakening of Mr. Adams2016.
Courtesy of the artist and Hannah Traore Gallery, New York

In another book, titled The Awakening of Mr. Adams (2016), Cox presents a double portrait of artist Derrick Adams, who is also a friend, with his chest made up of hundreds of versions of his strong bent arms creating a strong heart-shaped core. Adams is surrounded by a wreath of what at first glance appears to be a green leaf, but it’s actually a nifty collage trick. Cox reproduced and manipulated images of Adams bent over on his toes and tinted green. “By repeating and reducing each time, it takes on the appearance of a leaf,” she said. “It puts you in touch with your inner child. I started to find joy in doing this work, then I kept going full steam ahead.

Cox’s approach to collage, in which bodies blend together to create something new and visually stunning, comes from the national motto of Jamaica, where she was born: “Out of many one people”. She added, “In my portraits, I’m able to use other people’s bodies as a whole.”

Cox said the goal of his work is to inspire the watchful eye of anyone who comes to see the show. “You’re not going to tell me that you walked into the gallery, passed by and left in no time,” she said deadpan. “When you see my work, you have to look at it. I don’t think at this moment a negative thought can come to your mind.

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