Willie Cole is an African American artist from New Jersey. The steam iron has shown up as a recurring image in his work since 1989. He creates assemblage and mixed media irons and he uses the irons themselves in the creation of his art – with scorch marks forming patterns and designs. Many, if not most of his works visually reference African Art, particularly African sculpture and textile. I find the exploration of one iconic image (or at least a very few) to be a very interesting way to work.
Wendy Weitman, Associate Curator, The Museum of Modern Art, New York writes:
Willie Cole constructs his assemblage sculptures from found domestic objects and imbues them with spiritual, and often mythical, power through allusion and metaphor. Since the mid-1980’s, he has been preoccupied with the steam iron as a domestic, symbolic and artistic object. Cole first assembled used irons into iconic figurative forms reminiscent of African Art. In exploring ways to infuse these unpretentious figures with the potency of their progenitors, he discovered the scorch. The first scorches date from 1988-89, the year Mr. Cole spent as artist-in-residence at The Studio Museum in Harlem. Early works incorporate the iron in both sculptural and printed components – an actual iron’s presence and evidence. Later, he began appreciating the beauty of the iron surfaces, and discovered that every brand of iron had a different face. In Sunflower (1994), Cole united the decorative potential of his scorching with a powerful and evocative form. Recently, Cole has employed the iron within the printmaking medium of woodcut. Cole uses the branding process to draw out what he calls the spirit in the object. The smell, the texture, and the searing physical act all contribute aspects of meaning to his unique approach to imprinting an image. The scorch also embodies personal experiences from Cole’s African-American background and reflects the creativity with which he asserts that heritage.
While Cole has also done work with shoes, hairdryers and other “domestic” objects as their subjects, the iron is pervasive.
What do you think about narrowing your focus as an artist and exploring as many permutations of an image as possible? Would you be able to follow an iconic image for years to see where it would lead you? What types of images could you see yourself following?