Kevin Earlee Cole (1960– )

Kevin Earlee Cole, a Pine Bluff (Jefferson County) native, is one of the most renowned mid-career artists in Atlanta, Georgia; his works are widely collected, with Bill Cosby and Michael Jordan being notable collectors. Cole’s combinations of pastels mixed with primary, vibrant acrylics applied to twisting and curling canvases are a divergence in contemporary visual arts. His well-known “necktie” pieces are thematically linked to the history of African Americans in Pine Bluff, Tarry (Lincoln County), and Star City (Lincoln County)—areas that saw much racial violence during the early and middle 1900s. In 2018, he was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame.

Kevin Cole was born on January 19, 1960, to Jessie Mae (McGlounce), a cafeteria manager for Pine Bluff’s public schools, and Sam Cole Jr., a mortician; he was one of six children. Cole grew up on the east side of Pine Bluff and graduated from Pine Bluff Senior High in 1978.

He attended the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff (UAPB), where he received a BS in art education in 1982, studying under teachers such as John Howard, Earnest Davidson, Terrence Corbin, and Henri Linton. Cole completed a master’s degree in art education and painting from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1983 (on a full fellowship) and an MFA in drawing from Northern Illinois University in 1985.

Shortly after graduating in 1985, he began teaching public school in Atlanta. His first position was at Camp Creek Middle School from 1985 to 1988. He also taught at Georgia State University (1987–1998), Woodland Middle School (1988–1990), and Tri Cities Visual and Performing High School (1990–1994), after which he took a two-year leave of absence to work on a mural for the Olympic Games. Subsequently, he taught at North Spring Arts and Science Magnet Program (1996–2005) and Westlake High School (2005–present). While he teaches, he continues to produce art, show in galleries, and expand his voice in the African-American art community.

Cole is most well known for his various abstract “necktie” pieces, inspired by his grandfather, who was active in the civil rights movement. He once pointed out to young Cole a tree where it was said that African Americans were lynched by their neckties on their way to vote. Cole said, “So that stayed with me subconsciously, but I didn’t know it because I would always include ties in my work at an early age.” After moving to Atlanta, he did a series entitled Tied Up in Politics, “based on South Africa and the different ties that your congressmen wear. I was talking about people who make decisions for our lives; they wear neckties.”

Cole has produced a high-dollar-value body of work. His art is collected nationally and internationally and can be seen in public and private venues. Among his thirty public projects are installations and murals at the Washington Park Natatorium in Atlanta, the Georgia International Convention Center, StudioPlex in Atlanta, and the Charlottesville Albemarle Airport in Virginia. In addition, he has placed more than 1,000 works in public and private collections, such as the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC, the Clinton Presidential Library and Museum in Little Rock (Pulaski County), the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts in Little Rock, the Yale University Art Gallery, the U.S. embassy in Barbados, the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art in Philadelphia, Corcoran Gallery Museum in Washington DC, and the Dayton Institute of Art in Ohio.

For additional information:
Head, Greg. “Kevin Cole.” Artist and Influence 27 (2008).

Trieschmann, Werner. “Art and Activism.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, February 18, 2024, pp. 1E, 3E. Online at (accessed February 18, 2024).

Widner, Ellis. “Kevin Cole Reflects on AfriCOBRA, Busy Fall.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, November 11, 2018, pp. 1E, 3E. Online at (accessed February 18, 2024).

Melissa Kemp
Bauder College


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