Willie Cole's touch can be light, playful even, but his playful surfaces are matched by the artist's deep connection to his lifelong home in New Jersey and by an even deeper connection to his family's history and the African-American experience. "Deep Impressions," is the perfect name for an exhibition of Cole's work on paper, that opens at the Brooks Museum this weekend, following a gallery talk by the artist.
Cole built his reputation as a sculptor and an assemblage artist who transforms found objects such as hair dryers and high heel shoes into striking African masks. As Brooks chief curator Marina Pacini has previously noted, Cole's works on paper are a natural two-dimensional extension of the artist's sculptures, with an emphasis on "repetition, appropriation, and transformation." In lighter moments, the stenciled or scorched image of a steam iron — practically Cole's signature — becomes colorful petals on a flower. The same shape, in more serious and introspective moments, is recast as tribal scarification on a warrior's face, a shield, a mask, or armor."
In one of his best-known works Stowage, irons and ironing boards are used to evoke the image of a slave ship and a diagram for how to store the human cargo.
"Deep Impressions" features posters, paintings, photographs, and digital prints. The best work transforms American industrial detritus into exotic African artifacts, while ink drawings of bluesmen on their knees and lascivious women in burning beds find the insightful, often elusive artist darning some otherwise threadbare subjects.
On Thursday, February 10th at 7 p.m., Cole will talk about his work. "Deep impressions" opens to the public on Saturday, February 12th. Brooksmuseum.org