Ken (Albert Richard William Kenelm) Cox was born in 1927, in Wotton Under Edge, Gloucestershire. In 1949 he enrolled at UWE Art College in Bristol, where he did first drawings and murals. During the same year he changed to Camberwell Art School where he studied painting until 1951. After leaving Camberwell, he worked as a teacher in Lasborough, Gloucestershire, and in 1955 turned towards landscape painting. From 1958 to 1962 Cox lived in London, where he taught at the Acland Burghley School and continued to do landscape paintings. With yet another relocation to The Park, Kingscote, Gloucestershire, his artistic interests shifted. He established close contacts with artists and poets, among them Dom Sylvester Houédard and John Furnival, that would shape his future work. First Wall Sculpturesemerged, along with motorized objects and sign machines (Harmonograph Drawing Machine, 1966), works that led him entirely away from painting. Increasingly, his attention was now drawn to phenomena of (word) play, of mobility and change, of light and shadow. From 1962 to 1968 Cox held a teaching position at Gloucestershire College of Art in Cheltenham and Stroud.
The early kinetic or motorized objects emerging during the artist’s short productive period – it abruptly ended in 1968 – document his interest in absurd and ambiguous or decontextualized verbal and temporal phenomena. On the first Brighton Arts Festival in 1967, he presented Floating Sculptures. The words drifting on water (»Passion«, »Love«, »Beauty«) owed their unstable presence as much to the water, its surrounding medium, as to the specific position of the viewer. The lit and inscribed Balloons (1966) or the Graces Sculptures (1968) and the Moving Letter Board again combined sculptural and installation-based elements that always included creative verbal processes. With the Balloons, Cox turned towards the elements in spatially arranged light sculptures, with the Graces Sculptures, he arranged letters and word sequences into mobile, typographical figures of light and shadow, and the Moving Letter Board was conceived as clock-like, automatized word-machine. Like Ian Hamilton Finlay, one of the British exponents of Concrete Poetry, Cox’ working with language focused on its phonetic and visual dimensions. The relation to the elements (earth, fire, water, air), for example, was documented through the positioning and usually mobile mounting of his object-like mechanicalword sequences. With means such as word positioning and alliteration he gave verbal expression to phenomena of mobility and rhythm.
In the 1960s Cox participated in the first London exhibition of Concrete Poetry (Between Painting and Poetry, 1965) and in the International Festival of Concrete Poetry in Falmouth. After these events, his works were received as being situated on the boundaries of poetry and art. One of the venues where he exhibited his sculptures and objects was the ICA in London (1965). Posthumously his works were shown at exhibitions in Münster (Art Beyond Poetry, 1979), and his Four Seasons Clockwas shown at the 1986 Biennale Internationale de Poésie in Liège. In 2007 his hometown Wotton Under Edge dedicated a retrospective to the artist and his transmedial work.
Ken Cox died in 1968 in London.
Gomringer, E.: Von der konkreten Poesie zur visuellen Poesie, Ditzingen 1995
Ernst, U.: Text als Figur. Visuelle Poesie von der Antike bis zur Moderne, Weinheim 1987
Concrete Poetry: Gloup and Woup. Bob Cobbing, Kenelm Cox u.a., Gillingham 1974
Dencker, K.P.: Textbilder – Visuelle Poesie international, Köln 1972
Multiples: The first Decade: Künstlerbuch, Philadelphia 1971
Art & Project, Kinetic poetry, Kenelm Cox: Ausst.-Kat. hg. v. N. Godfrey, Amsterdam 1969