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John Rogers Cox (1915–1990)


APG 8924.002


JOHN ROGERS COX (1915–1990), "Swamp," 1969. Oil on wood panel, 20 x 30 in.
JOHN ROGERS COX (1915–1990), "Swamp," 1969. Oil on wood panel, 20 x 30 in. Showing shallow-cove modernist frame.


JOHN ROGERS COX (1915–1990)
Swamp, 1969
Oil on wood panel, 20 x 30 in.
Signed, dated, and inscribed (at lower right): JOHN ROGERS COX / N.O. 1969

RECORDED: John Rogers Cox, “John Rogers Cox,” typescript [1982], photocopy in Hirschl & Adler Galleries archives, New York, n.p. // John Rogers Cox Retrospective, exhib. cat. (Terre Haute, Indiana: Sheldon Swope Art Gallery, 1982), no. 20, pl. 14 illus.

EXHIBITED: Sheldon Swope Art Gallery, Terre Haute, Indiana, May 14–June 13, 1982, John Rogers Cox Retrospective, no. 20

EX COLL.: The artist; to Dr. and Mrs. Charles L. Kibby, the artist’s sister and brother-in-law, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, February 4, 1970; by gift to the artist’s daughter, August 15, 2010, until 2015; to her estate

In 1967, a year after the birth of his daughter, Sophia, he moved with his family to New Orleans—a locale he felt was “an interesting place” that would “give him new ideas for his work” (information courtesy of the artist’s daughter, January 26, 2015). Both a flourishing cultural center and a popular tourist destination, New Orleans offered an array of colorful motifs for artists, ranging from cobblestone streets, old cemeteries, and jazz clubs to historic mansions and Creole cottages. Although Cox resided in the bustling French Quarter, the oils he executed during this period reflect his attraction to the Louisiana countryside, which he would visit regularly, seeking out and taking Polaroids of steamy bayous replete with lush trees and Spanish moss, as well as abandoned oil wells and farmhouses with rusting machinery. (When asked how he selected his subjects, Cox said it came about by “getting in the car and looking around the immediate areas.” See “John Rogers Cox, typescript of an interview conducted by Robert D. Kinsman, April 12, 1982, p. 1, photocopy in Hirschl & Adler Galleries Archives. Information relative to Cox’s use of Polaroids courtesy of the artist’s daughter, January 28, 2015). These images––as well as his ongoing reliance on memory and experience––inspired canvases as Swamp, a work that well exemplifies Cox’s painstaking technique and his innate skill in synthesizing elements of reality and the imagination. 

Swamp also demonstrates the introspective nature of Cox’s late period. Concerned about the changes wrought on nature by garbage, strip mining, oil spills, and landfills, Cox turned his attention to landscapes that were no longer pure and untainted. Indeed, with its abandoned machinery and decaying trees desecrating the beauty of a local bayou, Swamp can be viewed as a late-twentieth-century allusion to the ravaging of nature by an industrialized society. The otherworldly aspect of the painting is amplified by Cox’s non-naturalistic palette, his use of a vivid shade of red-orange invoking a sense of eeriness and perhaps alluding to his own outrage at man’s indifference to the ecology in his quest to provide material goods. As was his long practice, Cox gives equal measure to both the landscape and sky, filling the latter with an array of low-level stratus clouds that form a protective canopy over a fiery orb that casts an eerie glow across the setting below. By means of color, and by rendering every element of the composition with his characteristic precision and finesse, Cox succeeds in giving us a highly subjective interpretation of the natural environment. To be sure, although Cox often denied the presence of symbolism in his work, Swamp is an apt reflection of his belief that “good painting offers a mysterious pleasure that one cannot quite put his finger on because the painter, through honesty and hard work, has actually painted his own personality in a familiar subject” (“John Rogers Cox Writes About Himself and His Work,” American Artist 15 [October 1951], p. 67).

According to his daughter, Cox was “a restless soul” who “didn’t like to stay in one place very long” (telephone interview with the artist’s daughter, January 28, 2015). For that reason (and wanting to escape the seasonal threats of hurricanes), Cox left the “Crescent City” and headed to Washington state, residing in Seattle and Chelan before settling in the city of Wenatchee in 1977. He remained there until the early 1980s, when he relocated permanently to Louisville, Kentucky, where he died in 1990. 

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