Artist John Cox On How To Be A Groundbreaker

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An interview by Jeryl Brunner for Forbes.

John Cox is a mixed media artist and one of the most influential people in the Bahamian art scene. Early in his career he was drawn to cultivating the art scene in his native Bahamas. A gradate of Rhode Island School of Design who received a BFA in Illustration and an MAT in Art Education, he is known for large format paintings, found object assemblages, collage and non-traditional printmaking. His pieces have been shown at the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas and around the world from France to Hong Kong to the United States.

Once a chief curator at the National Art Gallery of the Bahamas, Cox most recently became Art Director of The Current: Baha Mar Art Collection. Set in Baha Mar resort, at the Grand Hyatt Baha Mar, The Current is not only an art gallery, the arts program is also a working studio designed to support local artists and promote Bahamian arts.  “I love making a way for other artists to find their voice,” says Cox. “Early in my career, I realized the importance of building platforms, like The Current at Baha Mar.  I knew you could be as good as the environment that supported you.”

Cox has a particular passion for educating people about art, its history and context, regardless of age. At The Current he cherishes mentoring apprenticeships and organizing programming for school children. He also sees the power of storytelling and sharing the Bahamian’s rich culture though art. Cox offered guidance how invigorate your artistic side.

Jeryl Brunner: When did you know that art was your great passion? 

John Cox: I was given an opportunity to exhibit my work in a local gallery called The Upstairs Gallery owned by Brent Malone, a leading Bahamian artist.  I was a student at The Rhode Island School of Design at the time and about 20-years-old. Brent Malone encouraged me to push ahead with my practice.  I loved the environment and being around like-minded individuals And I knew there was a place for me in the art community as a result of those experiences I had.  Alfred Decredico, an instructor at RISD, was pivotal in building my confidence as well.  In the early days, I was also good friends with Shepard Fairey. And it was these golden moments that solidified in my mind that I too, could make it.

Brunner: What would you like people to know about Bahamian culture and art?

Cox: Bahamian art and culture is deeper and wider than most imagine, the Caribbean at large is an overlooked and often misinterpreted space. I want people to know the intelligence, integrity and dignity of the land and the people that make it up. We are built on tradition, nostalgia, romance and history mixed with irony and humor. The physical space overwhelms and informs the art, but our art also responds to our place in the world and tells of local stories with a global voice.

Brunner: What do you believe is the best way to nurture creativity?

Cox: I see The Current as a culmination of decades worth of hard work from artists that came before me, which set the perfect stage to carry us into the future of creativity not just for the Bahamas but for the entire Caribbean. I am passionate about The Current because it feels like my life’s work manifested in one job, to transport Bahamian art and culture to a new level at Baha Mar.

For example, we are actively engaging in a recycling program as part of The Current’s preliminary agenda.  We recycle glass, metal, wood, paper, fabric and any other discarded materials into our studio programming to create art and design objects and other merchandise.

Brunner: What advice could you offer other people who have a passion for something but don’t know how to make it their livelihood or life’s work?

Cox: My advice to any person wanting to pursue a dream is to believe in yourself and to be patient.  My passion as an artist and curator came because I surrounded myself with people that kept raising the bar around me and they supported me, even if they didn’t quite understand what my goals were at the time.  My parents paved the way to my opportunities.  I heard a quote that I love: “The answer to how is yes.” And I was lucky enough to have people continuously say “yes” to me.  The least I can do is pay that forward by saying to yes to other people so they can realize their own dreams.

Brunner: What advice do you wish you could tell your younger self starting your career? 

Cox Like the Buddha, have no fear and no desire. With humility, clarity and confidence it is all achievable. Commit to the process and less to the product.

Jeryl’s book, My City, My New York:Famous New Yorkers Share Their Favorite Places, where hundreds of notables share their favorite NYC locales, can be found here. Visit jerylbrunner.com.

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