Ken Cox, creator of Poetry Machines in the 1960s, can be cited as the most preeminent sculptor of the British Concrete Poetry movement, in spite of his tragic death in 1968 at the age of 41.
Stephen Bann, influential scholar in art history and visual culture, has written:
Ken Cox was a unique force in the English avant-garde art of the 1960s. The work Cox completed before his untimely death in 1968 was already distinctive and accomplished enough to make him a prime representative of that exciting period.
Notably, Ken Cox was represented at ‘Between Poetry and Painting’, an exhibition organised at the ICA in 1965 by Jasia Reichardt; the first attempt in London to showcase a range of international visual art forms that abjured traditional boundaries. In 1967, Ken Cox’s ‘The Three Graces: Passion, Love and Beauty’ was selected as a significant commission for the international exhibition of Concrete Poetry at the first Brighton Festival. Sited at sea between Brighton’s two piers the resonant floating sculpture encompassed three towers revolving above the waves in superb form until a vicious gale toppled the structure. The following year ‘Three Graces: Amor-Voluptas-Pulchritudo’ was shown at the ground-breaking exhibition, ‘Cybernetic Serendipity’ at the ICA.
Dom Sylvester poignantly summed up Cox’s practice in 1968 as: ‘painting to low relief to kinetic low relief to the kinetic use of words and letters’. Ken Cox evinced an extraordinary ability to master new techniques and materials; in coming into considerable prominence he purposefully possessed an urgent ambition to develop his skills through embracing new opportunities and powerful avenues of communication.
Shadow Box, 1965
760 x 500 mm, mixed media fibreglass and metal, mechanical letters in circular concave disc. A year after the first international exhibition of Concrete & Kinetic art in Cambridge (1964), this iconic piece was exhibited for the first time at Oxford in ‘OXPO 2nd International Exhibition of Experimental Poetry’, St. Catherine’s College, where it was thrown into the river by students as a protest against the exhibition (and subsequently rescued).
Shadow box lying on the lawn of Kingscote in 1965 before being exhibited at Oxford. The work is mounted on the wall, the central cog needs restoration to start turning again (a light bulb with creating the shadows).
Four Seasons Clock, 1965
Mechanical Clock – metal, wood, mixed media with motor 16’ dia (400).
The artist with Four Seasons Clock at Kingscote.
Moving Letter Board, 1965
1000 x 800 mm. Painted wood, copper strips with highly intricate workings at back to create letter movement through electric solenoid engineering system, mixed media. Exhibited 1965: ‘Between Poetry and Painting’, ICA. Together with a scroll drawing, felt tip on graph paper, 26 x 3215, (code design for copper plate working).
Set of 5 balloons: 2000 x 800 mm. Installation piece inspired by an etching by Samuel Palmer; the balloons inflate and spin: BRIGHT ENVELOPE, FIRE, EARTH, AIR, OCEAN
Printed ripstop nylon and workings, each has an acrylic base, stand, fan and light.
Each 6’ x 3’ (2000×800).
Ken Cox made two proposals for the 1967 Brighton Concrete Poetry Festival, both of which were floating text sculptures. The Three Graces (Love Beauty Passion) was chosen ahead of his larger Suncycle proposal. The complex repeating text of the floating Suncycle was then modified and purified by Cox as a smaller double-sided carved sculpture, hung from a translucent fishing line, suspended from the ceiling. The sculpture would then spin gently, by touch or breeze; the text and glow reflecting around the space:
“hanging from the roof and turning slowly. Cut it and etched it. Hacksawed by hand, brass is a nice material to work with… I shall have it turning very slowly and there will be a light on it”. – Ken Cox interview with Elisabeth Glazebrook, 1968.
Kenelm Cox, Suncycle, 1968.
550 x 50mm, brass, hand carved and etched by the artist at his studio in Kingscote, Gloucestershire.
Works on paper by Ken Cox also available, including:
Kenelm Cox, Poem ‘High cumulus, green elm trees’, 124 x 508mm, blue silkscreen on white paper, 1968. Ken Cox’s most poetic print that was reproduced in John Sharkey’s Mindplay Anthology (the proportions and quality of this print making it far superior to that image).
Untitled, 203 x 260mm, red on white card, topographical map of central Wales to which the artist has added ‘Go by the Mountain Road’, and then at the top of Plynlimon mountain are the instructions ‘Climb / the mountain / at the top / loose rock / and stone / build / a sculpture’. Effectively an early conceptual Land Art work: Cox had a great interest in the source of the rivers Wye and Severn at Plynlimon – the highest point of the Cambrian Mountains in Wales. Unfolded, unsigned and undated, published by the artist, Gloucestershire, 1967.
Ken Cox Memorial Exhibition Poster, 665 x 430mm, black and green silkscreen on white paper. Exhibited at the Gloucestershire College of Art, Lansdown, Stroud, 1969.