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Jim Cogswell

Arthur F. Thurnau Professor


Photograph of Jim Cogswell


Curriculum Vitae
  • M.F.A. (Painting and Drawing), University of New Mexico, 1982
  • B.A. (English Literature), Rhodes College, 1971

In 1990, Jim Cogswell joined the faculty at the Stamps School of Art & Design, where his teaching has focused primarily on painting and drawing. He was born and raised in Japan, studying literature, philosophy, and religion as an undergraduate English major. Using painting and drawing as the knowledge base for his artistic practice, he has explored a variety of media languages in his work, using printmaking to invent an anthropomorphic alphabet, digitally translating the alphabet into rubber stamps to inscribe literary passages onto gallery walls, using those stamps to devise installations of low relief ceramic tiles exploring language and pattern, creating giant adhesive shelf paper collages based on phonetic letters and celestial maps, using painted paper plates to evoke the interstellar molecular soup and an installation of brilliantly decorated paint cans to represent an astronomical model of the birth of stars, collaborating with cosmologists to digitally visualize dark matter, constructing an acoustically interactive mechanized painting, and designing machine cut adhesive vinyl window murals to visually interact with architectural structures and landscape vistas, to name a few.

Attracted to interdisciplinary projects, Cogswell has collaborated in performance works, videos, and installations with poets, dancers, musicians, composers, cosmologists, astronomers, a biostatistician, a computer science engineer, and a mechanical engineer. For example, in 1997, he collaborated with dancer.choreographer Peter Sparling to help create Seven Enigmas, with contributions from biostatistician Fred Bookstein and space physics research scientist John Clarke. The Ariel Web (2000) was created with poet Richard Tillinghast, Peter Sparling, Fred Bookstein, and composer Andrew Mead. In 2000 he worked with dancer/choreographer Evelyn Velez-Aguayo on a new performance work in collaboration with MacArthur-prize-winning composer Bright Sheng. In 2010 he completed a set of pen and ink illustrations for U-M historian Tom Trautman’s A Brief History of India (Oxford University Press). In 2014, he received major funding for Jeweled Net of the Vast Invisible, a collaboration with two cosmologists and a musician to create an immersive multi-media experience of dark matter.

During the 1992-93 academic year, Cogswell was the Charles P. Brauer Faculty Fellow at the University of Michigan Institute for the Humanities. In 2000 he received the Michigan Arts Award. Throughout his career at UM he has received numerous grants from the Office of the Vice-President for Research and the Horace P. Rackham School of Graduate Studies. In 2008 he was appointed Arthur F. Thurnau Professor in recognition of his outstanding contributions to undergraduate teaching. In 2014 he was elected a Senior Fellow in the Michigan Society of Fellows.

Cogswell has had solo exhibitions at Florida State University Museum of Art, the Urban Institute for Contemporary Art in Grand Rapids, the Walton Art Center, Purdue University, the Nashville Parthenon, the Krasl Art Center, the Amarillo Art Center, the Frances Wolfson Art Gallery of Miami, the Institute for Contemporary Art in Tallahassee, and the Jacksonville Art Museum. He has lectured at colleges and universities around the country and has been invited to speak on his work at conferences in Japan, Ireland, Hungary, France, Italy, Israel, Greece, and the UK.

Cogswell's work can be found in the public collections of the Yale University Art Gallery, Yasuda Life Company of New York, Mbank of Houston, Barnett Banks of Florida, the Museum of Albuquerque, the City of Tallahassee, the Tamarind Institute, Washtenaw Community College, Valencia Community College, Florida State University, and the University of Michigan. His 11,000 square foot vinyl window mural Enchanted Beanstalk occupies eight floors of windows on the new Mott Children’s Hospital at the University of Michigan Medical Center.

About his artistic practice Cogswell says:

My work explores sequence and pattern as triggers for cognitive processes that enable us, as humans, to perpetually reinvent our sense of the world, immediate and recalled. I have devised an anthropomorphic alphabet as a generative system for exploring pattern and periodicity, inscription and fragmentation, setting coded signs into visual narratives based on language. Sequences that result from organizing my images into words, phrases, and sentences have sharpened my interest in how humans translate perception into meaning, inspiring me to explore a variety of other sequential structures, using brain maps, astronomical models, cosmological simulations, architectural ornament and archaeological artifacts as systems to generate new visual configurations and sensory experiences.

For me the unexplained is always most compelling. I am inspired by the mystery of who we are as humans, how we acquire information through our senses and then what we do with it to explain the world to ourselves. The world is never quite what we think it is, yet somehow we manage. We look at flat, unmoving images and construct spaces, movement, narratives. How does that happen? I understand sequence and pattern as the structures that make meaning possible; I am curious about where our sense of meaning comes from, and uneasy about what we ignore in our desperate need to comprehend objects, experiences, and even cognition itself.