University of Maine Museum of Art • Bangor, ME • • Through March 22, 2014

By: Carl Little

 For his solo show in the intimate Zillman Gallery, Maine-based painter Kenny Cole has created an elaborate installation, Parabellum (Prepare for War), a four-part work he describes as a “Culture-Jamming/Docu-fiction/Artivism work of art.” In developing it, Cole assumed the persona of a fictional Civil War veteran and outsider artist. He names himself Bains Revere and addresses his ambivalence about war, including the deadly inventions of his friend, the historical figure Hiram Maxim (1840–1916), designer of the first portable automatic machine gun. The title comes from a 5th-century treatise on Roman warfare, De Re Militari: “Si vis pacem, para bellum,” or “If you wish for peace, prepare for war.”

Kenny Cole, Parabellum, 2013, gouache on vintage paper, ink on papier-mâché, on canvas, 84 x 144″. Courtesy of the artist.

The installation consists of 82 small, two-sided canvases. One side invokes the pageantry of war through red and white flag-like designs painted in gouache on vintage newspapers. In addition to stars and stripes, these pennants offer symbolic images: stacks of coins, a hypodermic needle, two hands playing cat’s cradle. Trompe-l’oeil waterstains add to the sense that this might be a body of work discovered in an attic somewhere in rural Maine.

On the reverse of the canvases are simple relief battle maps painted in Sumi ink on papier-mâché and a series of “hidden corporeal landscapes,” some of which are inscribed with fragments of anti-war poetry by Maine poet Chris Crittenden (“Why you sick Originator/slaughter toddlers/for bankers’ gain?”). Here lies the truth behind the outward display of nationalist zeal: the maneuvers of armies and the battered flesh of soldiers. The exhibition is interactive. Visitors are invited to “open” the canvases, which are attached to the wall by hinges.

War imagery has been a part of Cole’s aesthetic vision since American bombs fell on Iraq in January 1991. In recent years the artist has taken part in draw-ins and art-a-thons across Maine, many of them aimed at “bringing our war dollars home.” He is currently a member of ARRT, the Artist Rapid Response Team, which, under the aegis of the Union of Maine Visual Artists, has been creating banners that address gun violence, corporate power and other issues. Cole’s commitment to using art to raise awareness of our duplicity in the war machine is praiseworthy.

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