V. L. Cox (1962–)

V. L. Cox is a painter and mixed media artist whose work has achieved national acclaim for confronting institutional racism and homophobia.

Vicki Lynette Cox was born on August 14, 1962, in Shreveport, Louisiana, to Lynn Cox and Mary Hardman Cox; she has one sister. Her father, an illustrator and engineer, was stationed at Barksdale Air Force Base in Bossier City, and following the end of his service, the family moved to Arkadelphia (Clark County), where both he and his wife had been born and raised. When Cox was ten years old, her grandmother, Virginia Louise Pilkington Hardman, enrolled her in a children’s summer art program at Henderson State University. Cox’s great-grandmother, Virginia Louise Betts Pilkington of Washington (Hempstead County), was also an artist, and her work is in the permanent collection of Historic Arkansas Museum.

Her mother developed a substance abuse problem while Cox was young. After her parents divorced, Cox was regularly abused by her mother until one day Cox fought back, and an uncle took her away from the house. Her grandmother Virginia Hardman then became her legal guardian.

Cox was a founding member of the girls’ athletic program at Arkadelphia High School, graduating in 1980, and began studying at Henderson State University in 1981. She played volleyball for Coach Bettye Wallace and became a member of the prestigious “Bettye’s Reddies.” Cox transferred to Arkansas Tech University in Russellville (Pope County) in 1984 to study engineering but left the following year to work and focus her interests. In 1988, she reenrolled at Henderson and earned a BFA in computer graphics in 1991.

After college, she started doing marketing and advertising work in Dallas, Texas, as well as set design and construction for the Dallas Opera, the Dallas Ballet, and the Studios of Los Colinas before relocating to Memphis, Tennessee, after being hired by another firm. During this time, Cox had also been pursuing her own art, including designing and painting the theme and background for the National Civil Rights Humanities Awards in Memphis, where Leah Rabin, widow of slain Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, spoke and presented the Award for Freedom.

Cox returned to Arkansas to take a position working on the Alltel account for Cranford Johnson Robinson Woods, Inc. (CJRW). In 1997, she quit her corporate work to devote herself to art. She originally sold her paintings under her full name but realized that using only “V. L.” allowed the focus to be on the artworks themselves, rather than her gender; her sales also increased.

Cox’s most publicized work has been a mixed media installation titled End Hate, which launched in 2015. The project was in response to the proposed Religious Freedom Restoration Act (Act 975 of 2015), which, as originally written, would have allowed discrimination against members of the LGBTQ+ community in Arkansas on the basis of religious beliefs. Governor Asa Hutchinson signed a modified version of the bill following national outrage. The End Hate installation features a variety of different colored doors with labels on them such as “Colored Only” and “Whites Only” and “Veterans Only.” The last door in the sequence, labeled “Human Beings,” is wrapped in chains. The doors were installed twice on the steps of the Arkansas State Capitol and then at the base of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC. Images of the doors went viral and attracted media attention nationally and internationally. In 2018, after a national exhibition tour sponsored by the Longwood Center for the Visual Arts, the installation opened at the Rosa Parks Museum in Montgomery, Alabama, to coincide with the opening of the Equal Justice Initiative’s National Memorial for Peace and Justice in that same city. In an interview with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Cox described how the project “threw my whole personal life out there for everyone to see,” making her well-known as a lesbian artist.

Cox’s exhibition A Murder of Crows focused primarily upon racism and homophobia in American society, featuring found objects such as a Ku Klux Klan robe and pages of a Bible fashioned into tea bags (a reference to the Tea Party movement). In 2019, her work was featured at the Delta Cultural Center in Helena-West Helena (Phillips County) as part of the centennial commemoration of the Elaine Massacre of 1919.

In 2020, Cox was one of twenty artists in the nation featured in a billboard project titled Ministry of Truth: 1984/2020, which was described as providing “a platform for artists to comment on the current state of US politics and increasing polarization just in time for the election.” The twenty billboards were placed at various locations across New York City; the project was named one of “The Most Important Moments in Art in 2020” by the New York Times.

Cox has alternated between Arkansas, Virginia, and New York studio locations during her career. At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, she relocated to her home state, living and working at the St. Joseph Center in North Little Rock (Pulaski County). She stayed there until April 2021, when she moved to a live/work studio in the artists’ district of Peekskill, New York.

For additional information:
Alumni Profile: V. L. Cox, Class of 1991. Henderson State University. https://www.hsu.edu/news/2020/jul/30/alumni-profile-vl-cox-class-1991/ (accessed December 17, 2021).

Cox, V. L. V. L. Cox, a Murder of Crows: The End Hate Collection. N.p.: 2016.

O’Neal, Rachel. “V. L. Cox.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, May 10, 2020, pp. 1D, 8D. https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2020/may/10/v-l-cox-20200510-1/ (accessed December 17, 2021).

V. L. Cox Art. https://www.vlcox.com/ (accessed December 17, 2021).

Widner, Ellis. “Cox’s ‘End Hate’ Crosses Boundaries.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, October 22, 2017, pp. 1E, 6E.

Staff of the CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas

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