David Cole died peacefully at his home after a long and painful struggle with respiratory disease. In many ways, we can say he was a person who did what he wanted to do. On one level, this statement indicates the independence most artists claim to strive for but don't always achieve. On another level, it indicates his ability to work with the artists and poets most important to him, whether on the large scale of curating the panoramic Book and Mail Art show, "The Scroll Unrolls" in Israel in 1985 [notes for which are included at this site], or his own in-door and out-door shows and performances, or on the close scales of Correspondence Art. David could walk away from projects that didn't work for him, and just as easily rejoin or restart them when he saw new possibilities in work that had seemed hopeless. On yet another level, his constant activity produced as full an opus as his three score years could hold. Even during Cole's last months, he continued to work as much as his failing strength allowed, and hung onto life long enough to see his granddaughter born. He was able to plan a retrospective show of his work, take an active role in setting up his home page at this site after an extended period of discussion, and even allow university classes to visit him while in a hospital bed, engaging them in his usual long, insightful, peripatetic discourse. Like Robert Duncan, Socratic dialogues made Cole a great teacher and a great nurturer of ability wherever he went, and with whomever he spoke.
David Cole viewed his open, pluralistic, all-encompasing art as a constant process of transition and transformation. He drew and wrote while doing just about anything that left a hand free to work. David's conversations seldom stayed on-subject, but wove whatever you were saying into new and often surprising or illuminating patterns. He moved action painting from a self-conscious and contrived form to a means of meditation, often following the manner in which he paced about a room or walked in the open air - in several instances, this became the basis of choreographed dance. Although his main channel of distribution outside the mail art network was through exhibitions in galleries oriented toward painting, David saw painting as an extension of writing, a form of basic human gesture and expression not necessarily dependent on alphabets and other codified writing systems. During the Golden Age of Mail Art, when it rose from social necessity, Cole never lost sight of the importance of care and skill and the sense of immediate personal interaction, no matter how rapidly or urgently situations changed. His personal engagements remain one of the best models of what Mail Art can still be after the tensions of the Cold War have morphed into something less dramatic.
David Cole identified strongly with Walt Whitman, writing that "My work is gathered under the rubric of The Life and Love Songs of the Paumonock Traveler, as if it were my daily reports as a leaf of grass blown in Walt Whitman's scene of the struggle of identity and democracy. [Whitman] had sung his song just 100 years before me in Brooklyn Heights where I began my visual poetry work. I am singing back to him from a singular point of view." It seems appropriate that Whitman's vision of a free, open, participatory world should find its most complete artistic 20th Century expression in Mail Art, and fortunate that someone of David Cole's stature should work it out so fully.
David Cole was one of those people who illuminate the dust of which our lives are made, and this light still comes through in the body of art he has left. We hope this site will present at least a partial testimony to his life and work.
Go to David Cole Survey
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