By Lina Aas-Helseth ’13
When asked about his work displayed in Pacific Lutheran University’s University Gallery, emeriti professor of the Department of Art and Design and PLU alumnus Dennis Cox ’67 says, “It’s a collection of different ideas compiled together with other ideas to make artwork work.”
It took a total of seven years, back and forth, for Dennis Cox and David Keyes to put up the art exhibition Retrospective, but it’s here now and it’s open to the public.
When asked the question of why an art exhibition was put up between them, Cox has a natural explanation. “We spent over thirty years together in the art profession and made strong bonds. I have spent more time with Dave [Keyes] than I did with my parents!
But we also enjoyed each other’s artwork and we still swap pieces. We even went into phased retirement together at PLU back in 2006. We have strong bonds and a mutual love of art, and that’s what ultimately made us put up this exhibition together.
”When it comes to Cox’s passion for art, it started in high school where his main interest was sculpturing, but it was not until halfway through his undergraduate degree in college that he seriously got involved in art.
“Actually, I was studying Pre-Engineering and I was paying myself through college, but I realized that since I was financially independent, I wanted to do something for myself and get a degree I truly felt connected to. A high school professor of mine, whom I sadly cannot remember the name of now – it’s been a while – actually triggered my interest in art. It took me a while to realize my true passion, but it was about life choices; I had to think of what was right for me. I loved art, so I got on the right track eventually and began not sculpting, but doing printmaking. The desire to pursue it became a reality in college and basically, art ended up becoming an obsession.”
The word obsession also goes with Cox’s choice of elements in his artwork. His career has involved drawing, printmaking and watercolor, and his work focuses on the human figure and people. Looking at his displayed artwork in the University Gallery, people are clearly a reoccurring element, and each and every picture tells a story of its own.
After Cox had gotten his undergraduate degree, he went to graduate school to study fine arts and printmaking, where his true artistic fascination for humans and life began.
“Integrating people in art became somewhat of an obsession of mine early on. Observing people in society and see how they play different roles, and not to mention how they change these roles depending on the situations they are in. is fascinating. It fascinates me to see how people change as an individual when they are in groups, as if they are wearing masks, where they wear different masks for different groups of people.”During his time as a graduate student, Cox was challenged by one of his professors after he had seen too many of the same elements in Cox’s artwork.
“He challenged me to step out of my comfort zone, think outside the box, and create something I hadn’t created yet. So I started with an object to use as a figure, which is where the couch comes in,” he says, pointing at a lithography piece titled Couch Game. “Actually, if I remember correctly, this was a statement and a protest piece in regards of my drafting to serve in the Vietnam War. I dreaded being there and having to take a break during college, but I had no choice; it was either leave the country or go to Vietnam.”
Printmaking has also followed Cox’s career and many pieces are on display in the University Gallery.“Printmaking, which is a long term process that takes time to reach your goal, is a special form of art. You need to get from A to B, and a lot of hard work is put into the art piece.”
Hard work isn’t the only thing that got Cox to where he is today. Luck also played an important role.
“I remember back in 1978 when I was a professor at PLU. Another professor, Keith, was a printmaking professor at that time, and I introduced him to lithography. We exchanged knowledge and experience and I would find myself in the printmaking room playing around with the machine. Luck occurs in the arts, and you sometimes need to know the right people to get to the right places in life. Also, being an alumni can work in your favor, though not always!”
Lithography is also a method Cox has used vigorously throughout his over fifty years of being an artist, and various pieces are displayed in the University Gallery.
As for his inspiration, Cox focuses on objects and uses them as figurative speech by adding other objects not necessarily relatable to one another.
“My pieces aren’t meant for decoration, but rather an invitation to open one’s mind. I want for people to create their own ideas when they see my artwork and let the artwork trigger a thought process.”
Many students and also people in the Parkland community have been visiting the University Gallery in Ingram Hall since the art exhibition Retrospective opened February 7.
Pernille Engebretsen ’13, is a Business major and was intrigued by Cox’s artwork. “I really like it, especially the lithography with its imaginative figures combined with everyday furniture, such as a couch. Coming from a non-art background, I don’t know exactly what to make of it, but he is clearly a talented artist.”
Lene Melhus ’15, an Art major with an emphasis on Graphic Design, had an interest in Cox’s Repercussion. “There’s something about this piece that is mysterious. I love when art makes you think what the specific piece is all about. None of us knows, only the artist, sometimes not even him, and that’s fascinating to me.”
You can catch Keyes’ and Cox’s exhibition Monday through Friday 8-5 PM at the University Gallery in Ingram Hall at Pacific Lutheran University until March 6, 2013.
For more information about this exhibition, call: 253-535-7150, or go to www.plu.edu.com/gallery