We were lucky to catch up with Arden Cone recently and have shared our conversation below.
Alright, Arden thanks for taking the time to share your stories and insights with us today. We’d love to hear about a project that you’ve worked on that’s meant a lot to you.
My creative process has always been one of constant evolution, making it hard to thread out individualities within years-long series of works. For that reason, my projects—be they paintings, sculptures, or installations—become a single conceptual thread spanning decades. It is here, in this rich vein of ideas, that my art takes form.
In 2015, I moved to Charleston, SC, and began making work about the American South. I embarked on this journey because of my interest in Antebellum history, only to witness the region’s past violently erupt into present-day headlines, time and time again. “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes,” Mark Twain said, and I watched with horror as this played out in real-time: a racially motivated mass shooting rocked the city around me later that year. This was only the beginning.
When my focus on history began to presage the future, the ideas within each artwork became the most meaningful aspect. Every labor from then on was a call for critical thought, a search for a redacted narrative on the South’s history.
Arden, love having you share your insights with us. Before we ask you more questions, maybe you can take a moment to introduce yourself to our readers who might have missed our earlier conversations?
My art focuses on the American South and the enigmatic people—myself included—who have built its culture. For years, I have sought not to define, but to unravel the southern feeling, which exists in lieu of a cohesive southern identity. The evolution of this topic has taken me from Civil War history to present-day nostalgia, to and fro between painting and sculpture.
My ongoing investigation fleshes out questions of privilege, access, and nostalgia in the South, contextualizing them within the broader history of the region. Most recently, this exploration has zeroed in on stories of past traumas, be they collective or individual.
For three years, I turned detritus from my family’s farm into sculptures. Each object was, to me, familiar: red clay, horsehair, a feed bag gathering dust in the barn rafters. My challenge was to weave that felt sense of memory into the work for others to perceive. Most of the objects were damaged from some long-forgotten impact. Even a fencepost (whittled by carpenter bees) or a metal gate (bent, battered, and rusted) held decades-long stories of trauma. As do we. My investigation of object trauma, presently playing out in a series of oil paintings, serves as a metaphor for the South, a land that struggles to define itself without the shadow of its history.
What do you find most rewarding about being a creative?
Committing to a creative life has been a holistic choice: it has required bringing cunning and resourceful thought to every aspect of my journey. This is because it’s amazingly hard to forge a creative career and do so successfully—our society simply isn’t built for it—but the struggle is a blessing in disguise. Artists are used to taking risks, and so we do! This becomes a choice that extends beyond the studio and it often begets freedom.
For me, ditching the traditional idea of a nine-to-five “day job” was a risk, but it was also an act of empowerment. I began a small horse training business that supplements my art, both spiritually and financially, and I never looked back. The rewards of being self-employed are many, but one of the greatest perks is being able to design a schedule that allows my art practice to flourish.
Is there something you think non-creatives will struggle to understand about your journey as a creative? Maybe you can provide some insight – you never know who might benefit from the enlightenment.
I’m going to rephrase this question because I believe everyone is a creative. Those who aren’t active practitioners of creative pursuits, who may or may not long to recover their spark, are undoubtedly put off by the many stereotypes of artists. I am happy to debunk them.
I confront stereotypes in my own practice (specifically those of the South), exposing them as what they are: an imperfect overlay that sits atop something much more nuanced, something that deserves to be deconstructed.
The stereotypes suggest that artists follow inspiration in a seat-of-our-pants fashion, but this is untrue. When an artwork succinctly and poignantly holds a mirror to society, it is not a stroke of genius or a flash of insight. Rather, that idea is a labor of love. It has been formed, reformed, sculpted, and articulated with care. I think of art as being both input and output, for artists must take in ideas as much as they put them out.
Artists are relevant and their art transformative when they have their finger on the pulse of society, taking in, reacting to, defining, and even creating the zeitgeist of their times.
- Website: www.ardencone.com
- Instagram: @ardenbcone
“As the Words Fell to Dust, They Did So in Twos,” 2021 11” x 14,” acrylic, gold leaf, and collected barn dust on glass “The Mileage,” 2022, 16″x35,” Graphite and chalk on found tractor tire tube “The Mileage,” (detail), 2022, 16″x35,” Graphite and chalk on found tractor tire tube “Dust Print I,” 2021, 16.5” x 16.5,” Barn dust, adhesive, and shellac on feed bag “Don’t Tread on Hallowed Ground (US Capitol Building, Statuary Hall,)” 2021, 28” x 28,” Oil, spray paint and red clay on wood panel “Tabula Rasa,” 2022, 58.5″x 42,” Acrylic and Venetian plaster on wood panels “Tabula Rasa,” (detail), 2022, 58.5″x 42,” Acrylic and Venetian plaster on wood panels