Sentimental city: Cox colors in the lines

Kendall Cox, "On the Inskirts."
Kendall Cox, "On the Inskirts."

In Casablanca, Rick memorably tells Ilsa, “We’ll always have Paris.” Painter Kendall Cox, similarly, will always have Vancouver. In her exhibition, “The City in Which I Love You,” on display at New Dominion Bookshop, Cox offers a 13-painting visual ode to the urban environment where she found love.

Whenever the heart gets spun around, suddenly it opens to the world in new ways, relishing small details and discovering poetry in the most unlikely places. Cox reflects this experience by combining acrylic paint, pencil, and watercolor crayon in semi-abstract compositions that are less objective representations of Vancouver than interpretations of how the city felt when she was in the throes of love.

Her cityscapes are people-less yet full of social connections. Using a distinctive dark palette predominated by blues, greens, and a deep red, Cox often layers block-like buildings or creates rows of houses, linked together by lines both real and imagined. Electrical cables, telephone wires, clotheslines– even a strand of Chinese lanterns– crisscross her work, while arch-like lines often rise from one chimney and descend into a neighboring one. In addition, ladders and staircases suggest ways for people to reach other, as birds perch together on wires or fly through the sky in communal flocks.

Cox’s aesthetic recalls mid-20th century modernist paintings, echoing faintly Paul Klee and Charles Henry Alston. Although an urban grittiness grounds her paintings, they nevertheless seem playful and full of wonder, thanks to Cox’s experimentation with stroke and line– here pencil, there paint, here ruler-straight, there a scribble– and deft use of color. A salmon line down the side of a roof or a bit of lilac in a window keeps the eye engaged and moving.

In her artist’s statement, Cox notes she’s lifted most of her titles from poems that inspired the work. “The City in Which I Love You,” for instance, is the title of a poem and book by Li-Young Lee. To enlighten the viewer, Cox attaches excerpts from poems by twine to the lower left corners of several of her pieces.

For the small “One of Many Ways of Gray,” in which red-feathered ghosts of birds seem to light on and fly from a stretch of barbed wire, Cox offers a few nostalgic lines from a Catherine Mansfield poem that observes we inevitably leave something of ourselves behind when we leave a place.

Luckily, a bit of Cox remains in Vancouver.

Kendall Cox’s exhibition, “The City in Which I Love You,” is on view through May 31 in the Mezzanine Gallery of New Dominion Bookshop. 404 E. Main St. 295-2552.