Willie Cole

Written by kate

I absolutely LOVE Willie Cole’s work.  He’s an artist from Newark, NJ (born in Somerville) who is famous for using steam irons in his work, though more recently he’s been creating sculptures out of shoes and delving into computer animation.  The work with steam irons is so fascinating, especially since it combines several metaphors at once.  There is the domesticity and the feminine from the iron itself, but Cole mainly uses the burned images as symbolic references to slavery and African culture.  He takes a history of subjugation and abuse of a people, and turns it into power and culture pride using the same symbol.  Absolutely blows my mind!  This is why Cole is a master of his craft.  His iron work inspired me to do my rust-dyed fabric, particularly my rust quilt.  If you’re bored at your computer, google his name and check out more of his work.  It will not disappoint!

I just found out that he pulled an edition of 75 prints with a master printmaker at the Printmaking Center of NJ.  Home and Hearth is spectacular!  It shows off his signature iron motifs as well as his bold color choices.  Here is the explanation of the piece via the PCNJ website:


Home and Hearth, 2011
Serigraph on paper, 30” x 20”
Edition of 75
Publisher: Printmaking Center of New Jersey

Using a day-glow palette that harks back to his paintings and works on paper of
the early 1980s, Home and Hearth encases and forms three of Cole’s emblematic steam iron plate impressions into the breasts, crotch, and hips of a female figure. Cole aggrandized the image’s trio of big iron impressions resting on their pointed tops and overlaid their pneumatic forms with much smaller steam iron plate impressions which scatter, boat-like, about his floating body on its watery support. Amid his armada of buoyant irons one can make out sinuous, sperm-like motifs. Awash with yellow light, Cole’s sunny, sexual, and domestically titled composition’s breast-like forms at the top are given a delicate scarification or piercing by his steam iron’s intricate designs.
By Patterson Sims, Curator           Available thru Printmaking Center of NJ – $2000.

If I had the cash, I would buy this print in a heart beat.  The irons paired with bold colors and the sexual/fertility references…ahh, just glorious!  His work inspires me to keep working.  Thank you, Willie Cole!

You can find Willie Cole’s work on Artsy and his personal website.