Coxe is considered by many the “dean of African American art in Louisville.” As I studied more work by Coxe from the 1960s—the decade Young’s signature motif matured—I began to reframe my understanding of Young’s approach to abstraction. Scholarship currently credits the DC art landscape of the 1960s for encouraging Young’s bright, nonrepresentational compositions, but my oral history project complicates that notion by elevating relatively unknown artists such as Coxe. As I examine Coxe’s painting Signals, for example, with its yellow, green, and red forms misaligning in a gravity-defying way, I see Young’s canvases anew. Exhibited at the same time in Louisville, Young’s abstract forms and Coxe’s shapes share a strong connection: their paintings hold the same respect for color and form. As I continue to learn more about Coxe and the Louisville Art Workshop through this oral history project, I question how many other celebrated African American artists’ legacies are incomplete without proper acknowledgment of the Black art scene in Louisville, Kentucky, from the 1950s to the 1970s.
National Gallery of Art, Department of Academic Programs
Ailsa Mellon Bruce National Gallery of Art Sabbatical Fellow, 2021–2022
Sarah Battle is currently pursuing her oral history project in Louisville, Kentucky. Her interviews will be transcribed and preserved by Kenneth Young’s alma mater, the University of Louisville. Her oral history project is also generously supported by the Kentucky Oral History Commission.