TERRE HAUTE, Indiana — I didn’t find out about John Rogers Cox (1915–1990) till I juried the 79th Annual Wabash Valley Exhibition on the Swope Artwork Museum (Previously the Sheldon Swope Artwork Gallery) in Terre Haute, Indiana. Encountering three of Cox’s memorable landscapes displayed in one of many museum’s galleries made me curious. Who was this American regionalist painter working in a Magic Realist fashion that shares one thing with Peter Blume, Grant Wooden, and Ivan Albright, in addition to German artists related to the New Objectivity motion? Has he been largely forgotten as a result of none of his work had been as politically charged as Blume’s “Everlasting Metropolis” (1934–37) or visually excessive as Albright’s “Into The World There Got here a Soul Known as Ida” (1929–30)? Has he been uncared for as a result of he was not prolific or as a result of his work didn’t change very a lot as soon as he attained his subject material and elegance? Did the rise of the Summary Expressionist brushstroke make it tough to understand his consideration to specific particulars? Whereas these questions inevitably come up each time I take into consideration Cox’s work, they’re quickly overshadowed by the work itself.
Cox was the primary director of the Swope, which opened to the general public on March 21, 1942. On the age of 26, he was the youngest museum director within the nation. In his transient tenure on the museum (1942–43), he was tasked with establishing its assortment. Making a number of journeys to New York, he introduced again 23 work, together with works by Thomas Hart Benton, Charles Burchfield, Edward Hopper, and Grant Wooden. LIFE journal ran a double-page unfold on Cox in 1948, highlighting “when he gave up banking for artwork” and illustrating two of his works, “Self Portrait” (n.d.) and “Wheat” (1946), which was awarded the 1946 Carnegie In style Prize — an award he had beforehand received in 1944 — and was bought by the Nationwide Financial institution of New York Metropolis.
Along with being a museum director and artist, Cox was an influential trainer. In 1948, he moved to Chicago and commenced instructing determine drawing on the College of the Artwork Institute, the place he was on the school till 1965. In an electronic mail from Jim Nutt, I realized that Robert Lostutter, who is understood for his meticulous watercolors of human-avian hybrids and studied with Cox in 1958, thought extremely of him. Lostutter instructed me by telephone lately that Cox in 1958 didn’t let his college students draw the determine till they demonstrated that they knew how to attract. Lostutter additionally stated that he had saved a determine drawing from that class, and each time he checked out it he thought fondly of Cox.
For the reason that starting of this century, Cox’s work has been included in quite a lot of essential group exhibits, together with To Make a World: George Ault and Forties America on the Smithsonian American Artwork Museum (March 11–September 4, 2011), curated by Alexander Nemerov. He has additionally been the topic of retrospectives on the Scope, first in 1982, on the fortieth anniversary of the museum’s opening, after which in 2012, with Twin Visions: John Rogers Cox, Artist and Curator.
The eerily charming “White Cloud” (1943), which was within the Smithsonian exhibition, is the primary of Cox’s work that I noticed on the Swope Artwork Museum. (In line with the museum’s web site, Cox added a couple of particulars in 1946.) The portray depicts two clouds that resemble mushroom caps, one nested beneath the opposite, floating above a barren area. The intense clouds stand in stark reduction to the ominous grey and black sky, which takes up a lot of the composition.
Within the decrease proper of the barren area, composed of vertical rows of brown, rotted greens receding into the space, Cox has depicted an deserted plow. On the opposite facet of the sphere are two naked, leafless timber and a gothic mansion rising from behind the horizon line. That diagonal pulls our consideration throughout and into the pictorial house, culminating in an unwelcoming constructing with darkish, curtainless home windows, that appears misplaced. Quite a few observers have described the clouds as an indication of hope, however they don’t point out that the portray was made on the top of World Warfare II, when collective nervousness was excessive. The luminous clouds — fluffy, empty shells — and the darkish, foreboding sky appear to exist in numerous realities. This hardly seems to be a imaginative and prescient of hope.
Born within the aftermath of World Warfare I, Cox was a young person in the course of the Despair and a younger grownup throughout World Warfare II. There isn’t a path within the portray, no highway to take. As viewers, we’re each a part of the scene and out of doors of it — an unsettling place that echoes our personal selections in life. As fantastically managed because the portray is, “White Cloud” additionally presents a ghastly imaginative and prescient of the world.