V.L. Cox

Photographer: 
Kyle McLaughlin
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A visit to the studio of Arkansas artist V.L. Cox would stir the creative juices of even the most artistically hopeless soul. Tucked away in an almost forgotten upstairs wing of North Little Rock's First Presbyterian Church--the windows of the space were boarded up until she moved in a year and a half ago--V.L. can be alone with her artwork and yet remain connected to the city below. "Especially at night, you can just hear the town going full speed," she says. "I love to open my window and listen to the trolley go by."

Her studio space, located in the Argenta Historic District and designed in 1924 by famed Arkansas architect Charles L. Thompson, is crowded with the found objects she incorporates into her mixed media art, including chrome pieces from old cars, rusted metal signs, screen doors. "Incorporating collectibles in a painting or in a piece of art is a great way to preserve something," says the artist, who admits and historic preservation is her second loves.

V.L.'s ongoing American South Screen Doors series, which features images of people from the South displayed behind salvaged antique screen doors, is a reflection of that love. V.L. explains that she painted her first screen door in 1991 for her senior art show at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia. The portrait behind the screen was of a longtime family friend named Queen Victoria. "She gave me an old screen door off her house, and I painted her behind it." The painting received second place in a purchase-award art show, and V.L. says she split the prize money with Queen Victoria. "She was just so sweet to let me paint her!" she laughs. Another piece from the series, Colonial is Good Bread, was selected for the 2007 Arkansas Arts Center Delta Exhibition.

It's clear that V.L., whose family has lived in the South for over 200 years, is strongly influenced by her heritage. But she's also known for her vibrant, textural abstract paintings. "Mainly people know of my three-dimensional texture," she says. "I like building things up; I like metal; I love geometrical things." The pieces in her latest collection, many of which are on display at Little Rock's M2 Gallery, combine warm, rich colors with strong geometric patterns. Most of the pieces are complemented with single-word titles, such as Vista, Sovereign, Magnitude and Ratio. "I think that if you pick the right word to associate with a painting, it's powerful…It tells the story a little more," she explains.

A full-time artist since 1997, V.L. has developed the business savvy necessary to accompany her artistic talent. But surviving in the art business hasn't always been easy. "It was very difficult to learn at first, because they don't teach you that in art school," she says. "For two years I really struggled, and I started reading a lot after that, trying to educate myself." V.L. admits that she often works on paintings from 12 to 15 hours a day, and she's just as serious about promoting her work as she is about creating it. When she learned that female artists often have a harder time marketing their pieces in large markets, she even decided to start going by her initials. "My sales went up 30 percent," she says.  "I know it's not that way everywhere. In smaller areas, I don't think it makes that big of a difference, but in bigger cities it makes a huge difference." But the challenges of the art business aren't stopping V.L. Cox any time soon. "I feel like there's so much more I want to do, and that I'm just beginning."

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