Contemporary sculptor, printer, and visual artist Willie Cole’s haunting works blend the familiar with the unexpected. He has long used familiar items to create art that transforms both the object and the viewer’s gaze. In his hand, piles of discarded high-heeled shoes become a face, a flower, or a chair. Recycled plastic water bottles take the shape of a chandelier or a 1959 Eldorado. With his work, Willie Cole winks at the consumer culture that drives the oil industry that in turn fuels plastics and gas-guzzling cars.
‘My interest or my habit is to work with objects that have had intimate contact with human beings. The things you touch hold onto a part of you. My interest then is to extract and reveal the spirit in any object I use’ — Willie Cole.
The artist first turned to the iron as a motif in the 1980s when he found one lying in the street that had been crushed by a passing car. ‘The magic occurred the moment I looked at it and noticed that it was looking at me too,’ Willie Cole told an interviewer in 1996. ‘I picked it up. It was no longer an iron but an African mask.’ He has fashioned sculptures from steam irons and scorched the surface of canvas and wood with their heated mist to create works that recall masks, tribal markings, and shields. In 1997 he used the silhouette of an ironing board to evoke the outline of a slave ship in his poignant woodcut ‘Stowage.’
Text by Colleen Walsh →