Art in the Wild

Wild Canary’s Chris Cox makes a big statement with public sculpture


While crafting fiberglass and aluminum composites at a marine industry custom fabrications shop in 2014, Bristol-based sculptor and boat builder Chris Cox had a flash of inspiration: “I [envisioned] sculptures being built on a monumental scale using the same tools and materials I was working with on boats.” He thought, “Yeah, I can do this.’”

The results of this vision are probably familiar: Cox’s enormous “POD” sculpture has lived at 345 South Water Street’s riverside parkway since May of 2016. It consists of multiple flat “monolith” panels constructed out of sturdy, weather-resistant composite fiberglass-reinforced plastic, all shaped and placed to evoke the image of a sperm whale. He was still new to making art professionally when Providence’s I-195 redevelopment commission put out an open call for sculpture in 2015 – Cox’s proposal was accepted.

Cox was “raised to be a creative child” with a hobbyist mother, “DIY-er” father, an aunt who teaches art, and a carpenter grandfather who taught shop. “I was taught to build things and that ‘weird is wonderful,’” Cox says. In 2010, he graduated from Newport’s International Yacht Restoration School, where he took a nine-month program with composite expert Henry Elliot. Elliot would become a long-term mentor, and at the end of the program, he purchased “a trailer with a crappy boat on it” and gave Cox the boat: a Sea Sprite 23 named Wild Canary. Although the boat “doesn’t float yet,” it inspired Cox’s artist name: Wild Canary.

Cox’s next large-scale public project debuts at the end of August in South Hamilton, Massachusetts as part of the Flying Horse Exhibition: an 11-foot-tall, 12-foot-wide, 17-foot-long abstraction of a happy dog named “Windy” (the name of the dog he’s had for eight years). Funds to build it were raised through a Kickstarter campaign in April. Due to the size of his pieces, Cox scaled down his silhouettes to create smaller unique art pieces for supporters to display in their own homes. Thirty paintings and three tabletop sculptures were sold, which were essentially duplicates “directly mimicking the original concept of the sculptural design,” he says.

The original sculpture is the “content maquette” that smaller iterations mimic. Each derivative painting or “monoprint” is “completely individually unique, and they’re created using a self-developed process of controlled randomness using stamps and stencils cut based on silhouettes of sculptural design,” Cox says. The monoprints are between one inch and 2.5 inches square, and Cox will soon sell them in packs of five “like baseball trading cards.”

All of Cox’s sculptures are “based in a kind of spirituality, almost, that has to do with interactions between living things.” “POD” stands for People of Difference, and by evoking sperm whales, it represents the idea that “people of difference are getting cornered and hunted to extinction, much like whales are.”

While attending high school in Providence, Cox was inspired by Shephard Fairey’s ubiquitous “Andre the Giant has a Posse” stickers. He first dabbled in public art by leaving “graffiti sculptures” in towns or cities where he hoped it would be noticed; the pieces were rudimentary but large, six feet tall by four feet wide, and made of cheap scrap wood and plywood. He started an “anonymous gallery campaign,” leaving sculptures in plastic bags outside of art gallery entrances. Eventually, his work did get noticed, and he was offered space to show at Alta Luna Studio in Bristol. In late 2017, his wooden Reindeer sculpture debuted at the Arcade Providence, and his work is also currently displayed at Grimshaw-Gudewicz Art Gallery at Bristol Community College in Fall River.

Cox’s goal is to someday “make Providence synonymous with [his] art” by creating a legacy through large-scale sculpture. He envisions even larger public art installations for the city someday.