Willie Cole

Untitled Scorch Work (Figure)Willie Cole (American, b. 1955 ), Untitled Scorch Work (Figure), 2013, Scorch drawing on paper, Humana Foundation Endowment for American Art, Snite Museum of Art, University of Notre Dame, 2017.009.002

 

ABOUT THE ARTWORK

 

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Who made it?

A self-described “contemporary artist, perceptual engineer, ecological mechanic, transformer,” Willie Cole has been altering perceptions of household objects since the 1990s. Born in New Jersey in 1955, he continues to have a studio there while he exhibits work around the world.

Cole studied media arts and graphic design. While best known for creating prints and sculptures, he also designed album covers and produced sets for theater and opera. In his hands, women's shoes, irons, ironing boards, bicycles, and hair dryers are transformed into objects resembling masks, chairs, and African carvings.

In 2017, the Snite Museum of Art hosted an exhibition of Cole's work entitled Making Everything Out of Anything: Prints, Drawings, and Sculptures by Willie Cole. The exhibiton showcased the surprising ways that Cole uses everyday objects to talk about diverse and complicated subjects such as African American history, cultural identity, consumerism, gender, and sexuality.


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What's going on in this work?

Cole's Untitled Scorch Work (Figure) is part of a series of works that bring together Cole's graphic design background and his interest in the power and stories that everyday objects carry within them.  

Untitled Scorch Work (Figure) is created by superheating the plates from the bottom of irons and then using them to brand or mark the paper. He uses the heat as a kind of ink and the iron as a stamping device to create elaborate compositions out of repeated printed forms. Here the pattern is one of a crouching human figure with arms raised and is reminiscent of an African carved figure. For Cole, the irons connect back to the African American women who served as domestic workers in the 1930s and 40s and also to the branding once used on slaves to signify ownership.


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Take a closer look.

Click on the full image of Untitled Scorch Work (Figure) above to see a larger version of the work. Look closely at the work and use these questions to guide your looking. Share your thoughts with your family at home, with a friend through a virtual conversation, or with us in a response to this email.  

  • What object has Cole used repeatedly to create this figure? What associations do you have with this object? Alone or with a partner, make a list of all these words. How many did you come up with? This list making exercise is something Cole does before he begins making a new work.
  • How would you describe the pose of this figure? Relaxed or tense? Friendly or threatening? What do you see that makes you say that?
  • If you were to make an artwork using one everyday object, what would it be? Make a list of all the associations you have with this object. Create your own 2D arrangement by drawing an outline of your chosen object on a piece of paper. Cut it out, trace it on paper several times to make multiples of your object. Cut them all out and then arrange them into an image. How many different arrangements can you make with your object? Ask a friend or family member to try to make a new arrangement with your object to discover new ways to see your everyday item.

Image credits:
Willie Cole (American, b. 1955 ), Untitled Scorch Work (Figure), 2013, Scorch drawing on paper, Humana Foundation Endowment for American Art, Snite Museum of Art, University of Notre Dame, 2017.009.002  | Photograph of Willie Cole. | Two detailed views of Untitled Scorch Work (Figure) in a circular format, progressively zooming in on the sculpture.