“Executive Decision,” 2020, gouache on paper
“Executive Decision,” 2020, gouache on paper
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The name of Kenny Cole’s new solo exhibition, the inaugural show at the newly formed Nichols Block Gallery in Bangor, is “Executive.” It is “another Trump show kind of thing …” he said, because he is running out of names.

Cole is a midcoast artist based in Monroe. He studied art in New York and moved to Maine in 1994 with his wife and two children. He has a construction business, but has long been involved in the arts and is prolific, producing a large body of work and exhibiting in many venues around the state.

The new show, he says, includes “works created over the past three years that take into account the paradigm shift occurring under our current chief executive.

“Much of that shift has been societal and global, the growing pains of technological transitions and structural violence. Our chief executive is an easy target to lampoon and codify; yet all of his characteristics reflect out of our own unique society and the greater Western norms that are so rightly under fire these days. So with this work I assemble and reassemble a smattering of Trump tropes: blonde coiffure, red tie and Twitter blue all mustered from a perfectly primary color palette, which could simultaneously stand in for the color scheme of any nation’s pageantry and extravagance.

“The parody and satire find their footing not simply from our leader’s actions, speech and texting, rather I view his era as a swirling meteorological condition in which sympathetic credos, phenomena and ills are all drawn into his maelstrom and appear in my work as formations, visions and collected fables tangled up into the larger narrative of humankind’s dysfunction.”

A lot to swallow.

When viewing his work, you may not get what the pieces are about immediately, but there is still a visual impact. They have a presence, and the colorful, fanciful-feeling, painterly gouache paintings tell stories in Cole’s symbolic language. The imagery isn’t always obvious — but there are recurring characters and motifs throughout the work. Different animals — a blue “tweet” bird, a penguin, an eagle — or the colors blue, red and white, or hands holding cellphones, or Santas appear. As Americans, we have an idea of what most of those might represent. Cole’s been having a journey through the strange political and social world we have been living in.

Cole is also planning a show at the Perimeter Gallery, at Chase’s Daily in Belfast, in December. This will be post-election, and he is thinking about what could work whether Trump is there or not there. November could be good because of the last midterm election. Cole’s a Green. “They keep telling me not to go there; that Bernie is the worst thing — he’s great but, not now.… It’s never now, so I’m staying with the Greens; I’m sticking with them. I like their platform. (He was asked, and reluctantly agreed, to run as a Green candidate once and got 15 percent of the vote, and he didn’t campaign.) But he feels he can’t do politics now: he’s doing his art. “I’m doing my thing, I’m making political art. Trump is going to come and go; the worst-case scenario, he’s here for eight years … and he’ll be gone. We went through Reagan and Bush. The solution is not to panic, but work on making the world a better place, however you do it. Just hang in there.”

An artist creates something, and then it takes on a life of its own, and others will look at it and have their own reaction. It’s an interesting phenomenon — the nature of art — a different kind of communication. The viewer may ask, What are they saying? ... or, Why? The viewer may feel something or not, or have a totally different take on what the artist was intending.

Cole hasn’t always felt comfortable showing some of his work. He once made a piece that was based on a disturbing event, but the way he did it was playful, “kind of cartoony.” He was uncertain about showing it, but it got accepted in a juried show. He watched people’s reactions, and some laughed. He got over it, because an artist can find a million things wrong with their work, but there must be something there. He now feels it’s not up to him. If people respond to it, that’s their reaction. He says, “Let it happen; you’re doomed if you think about other people’s reactions. Let yourself be who you want to be, and do what you like. Figure out what you are doing and be true to yourself and let go. Don’t be critical in the studio; feel free to let it happen. You are battling with yourself; be willing to go after what you like. It’s a process. The opportunity of the blank page — it can have anything on it — the possibilities are infinite. And you should be able to have a pencil and have the possibility to change the world. It should be that simple. If you are an artist, you are political. What are you doing? If it’s from your own inner world, that’s fantastic. Make whatever you want. We are the voice of ourselves. People do love looking at work — and it could be hilarious, or ridiculous.”

Does Cole call himself an art activist? He wouldn’t say that, but if you call him that, he won’t reject it. His work has an activist spirit to it. “I’m not against being an art activist, I just wouldn’t say exclusively. I’d be happy if the world was a beautiful place; I would be happy to paint flowers.… I do love painting. I love being in my studio. It’s an interesting thing that humans do … making art.”