Wk 10 – Artist Conversation – Helen Werner Cox

Exhibition: Silent Screams
Media: ink, wood, screen, marker, paint, paper, etc.
Gallery: Max L. Gatov Gallery West
Website: www.helenwernercox.com
Instagram: no Instagram

About the Artist:
Helen Werner Cox is a graduate student in her third and final year in the MFA Drawing and Painting Figurative program at CSULB. She is from Trumansburg, NY (just outside of Ithoca.) She loves gardening at her home where she grows a variety of low water plants, California natives, and fruit trees. When she is not in the studio or in her garden, she enjoys reading as well. Her love of reading and art translated into her thirty year career as a teacher/librarian. In her early years of teaching in Boston, after getting her degree in art education from Boston University, Cox taught art in alternative education settings because desegregation issues prevented her from being hired at public schools. These years of teaching were significant in Cox’s life because she got to teach students of all ages (pre-k to high school), her interest in literacy was kickstarted, and she was introduced to a multicultural way of life and thinking that stuck with her since then.

Cox decided during this time at some point to go back to college, earning a masters in educational management from Lesley College. After earning her second degree, Cox moved to California where she had to start fresh because nobody in the area knew her. Starting fresh meant having the option of teaching high school or middle school students as an art teacher. Cox had already taught high school students quite a bit, so she decided to take the middle school teaching route. In the first year it was very difficult. After the second year, Cox had a good idea of how to teach the age group, and but the third year, she was getting bored. Luckily, the position of school librarian opened up and Cox was eager to fill it. She was the school librarian for fourteen years and loved it.

Once Cox decided to retire, she was no longer actively doing something to help the world like she had when she was teaching students in low-income neighborhoods. She decided that she was going to return to the arts as a form of self expression rather than teaching. It was difficult at first to return to being a serious artist, but she started to get into the rhythm again. Once she felt comfortable, she decided to go and lead artist workshops in various museums and galleries. During one of these experiences at the Getty, Cox met Peter Zokowski- an anatomy professor at CSULB. Once she heard about it, she decided to sign up for his course and wanted to learn more.

In the first year at CSULB, Cox took open university classes, then the next year she enrolled in grad school. Initially, she didn’t desire having a show and just wanted the opportunity to learn and create more art. After creating larger scale pieces, she felt it would be a waste to not have a show with all the work she was doing. Therefore she has this show and plans to expand her showings in competitions and galleries after earning her third degree.

Content Analysis:
In her first year and a half of the graduate program at CSULB, Cox learned a variety of new skills and she wanted to use those skills to express herself. She knew that she wanted to have a show, but didn’t know what she wanted the subject to be. Therefore, Cox kept a journal to sketch out her ideas as they came whether they were good or bad. The first drawing she did in the sketchbook was of a carousel with sad looking adults riding the horses in an endless loop. After creating this sketch, Cox traveled to Santa Monica to look at the carousel and felt it was something she could be passionate about. After that, Cox went to see the carousel every week. Though she liked these horses, they were more representative of suburban women than the strong creatures she found at the Griffith park carousel in Los Angeles. She felt the Griffith horses were powerful, with expressions of anger and terror that were more expressive than the horses in Santa Monica.

After a while of Cox going to Griffith Park, the owner of the carousel decided to introduce Cox to Lourinda Brey, who is a carousel animal collector. Now Cox goes every week to Brey’s warehouse of animals to sketch and has become friends with the collector during her one year and two month project.

The bigger images in the show are compiled from various sketches in Cox’s sketchbook. Her lastest work in the show consists of compositional sketches of what she physically sees versus the conceptual ideas she has been conveying. This literal adaptation of the project is leading Cox in a new direction which she plans to follow as she progresses as an artist.

Formal Analysis:
For the formal analysis of Silent Screams I will only be analyzing one piece: the wood carving.

This wood carving took one year to complete from the sketching stages to the final finished product. Cox has experience in carving from a few years prior to attending CSULB and she decided to incorporate her knowledge into this show. Her inspiration was an English carousel centaur with two saddles. It is a strange animal and it inspired the thought: are there any female centaurs. Indeed, there are female centaurs dated back Roman myth, but they are very uncommon.

Because of this, Cox decided to create a carving of a female centaur. She felt that her piece would reveal a correlation between the physical representation of a fierce female being unleashed in the form of a centaur, yet being strapped to a pole and how women in today’s society think they are liberated, but they are truly still strapped down.

To begin this piece, Cox drew the horse body and female body from many different angles. She used an 1800s carousel horse from the warehouse and a hired female art model as references for these sketches. In order to get a better idea of how the carving would need to be executed, Cox created a clay model of the female top half of the figure before starting on the carving; this helped to get a better idea of the positive and negative space of the piece. In order to get the horse body correct, Cox spent much of the carving time in the warehouse carving from life. After she had finished carving the various wooden pieces and limbs, she connected them all with wood and carved more. Once she smoothed out the wood, she then painted it and added the pole and the piece was completed.

My Experience:
I love Cox’s show and her as an individual. Both her life and her work are very dynamic. I feel inspired by her and her endeavors through education and life. Her work inspires me to stick with one idea in my art versus jumping from one idea to the next. Sticking with an idea may lead to learning more and connecting with more people than one could imagine at the beginning of a project and that is what I believed happened in Cox’s case. I am very glad to have gotten to know her and her processes better through this artist conversation.


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