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.
Image (left): Ken Cox with Four Seasons Clock at Kingscote.
Four Seasons Clock, 1965
Mechanical clock, metal, wood, mixed media with motor 16’ dia (400).
Shadow Box, 1965
Mixed media fibreglass and metal, mechanical letters in circular concave disc, wired with light fitting, 760 x 500 mm.
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). The work is mounted on a wall, the central cog requires restoration to start turning again. A light bulb creates the shadows.
Image (below left): Shadow Box photographed on the lawn of Kingscote in 1965 before being exhibited in Oxford.
Brass, hand carved and etched by the artist at his studio in Kingscote, Gloucestershire, 550 x 50 mm.
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:
“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 Elizabeth Glazebrook, June 1968.
Five Elemental Balloon Poems, 1968
Set of five balloons, printed ripstop nylon and workings, each has an acrylic base, stand, fan and light. Each 2000 x 800 mm. This work is said to have been inspired by an etching by Samuel Palmer. The balloons inflate and spin, three of the balloons represent the elements and are printed with FIRE, EARTH, OCEAN.
Moving Letter Board, 1965
Painted wood, copper strips with highly intricate workings at back to create letter movement through electric solenoid engineering system, mixed media, 1000 x 800 mm. Exhibited 1965: ‘Between Poetry and Painting’ at the ICA. Together with a scroll drawing: felt tip on graph paper, 26 x 3215 mm, which is a code design for copper plate working.