It might not be a name you’re familiar with but J.W.S. Cox was an innovative watercolorist who’s claim to fame was ‘inventing’ and exploring the full possibilities of the wet-on-wet watercolor technique; in other words immersing paper in water and painting wet watercolor pigments on to the wet paper, so that the pigments could spread and take on a life of their own with some fascinating results.
So what more can we tell you about this artist? Well, he was born in 1911 in New York and was the son of an architect and his artistic tendencies were evident from an early age. He graduated from Pratt Institute in New York City in 1933 and despite having to work at various jobs during the Great Depression, he still found time to study the works of some of the famous watercolorists at the time including Turner and Cezanne.
In 1936, Cox got his first break when he went to Paris to study at the Academie Colarossie and also with ‘Fauvist’ artist, Othon Friesz, but found this style too sloppy. So in 1938 he returned to Boston and entered the Eliot O’Hara summer classes and by the end of that year, he had illustrated a historical novel ‘Listen for the Voice’. In 1939 he joined the Art Department of Boston University where he taught huge classes of students how to paint in watercolor, and established a studio in Rockport, where he developed his “sponge painting” and palette-knife watercolor techniques.
Wanting to remain “his own man” and not paint commercial pictures, Cox developed a unique and individual style, and despite becoming a member of various societies, including the Boston Watercolor Society and the American Watercolor Society, he shunned publicity and preferred to paint rather than socialise.
In summary, Cox was a ‘Renaissance Man’ and as well as being a great artist and travelling the world painting scenes few had ever seen, he can also be accredited with being a teacher, art school administrator, illustrator and lecturer. He was once quoted as saying his goal was “to present myself and the soul of nature as truthfully and with as much inspiration, vitality and freshness as is possible, through the medium of watercolor.”
He died in Florida of a heart attack in 1982.