Willie Cole has achieved international recognition for his multimedia sculptural assemblages, paintings and drawings created with iron scorch marks, and a large body of prints. Cole repurposes mass-produced goods into distinctive, handcrafted works of art. Most notably, his sculptures transform Western society’s consumer and domestic objects—shoes, salvaged irons and ironing boards, blow dryers, bicycles, and other common articles—into powerful cultural statements that evoke ritual objects from Cole’s African heritage. His attention to “brands and branding” deliberately encompasses all meanings of the term, with emphasis on the act of marking enslaved persons as property.
Downtown Goddess is among Cole’s most recent sculptures in a series of works utilizing women’s shoes as elemental components. The standing female figure is modeled from thrift-store pumps, tinted to resemble the notoriously expensive red-soled shoes from French designer Christian Louboutin. With obvious allusions to African tribal art, Cole also wryly references European modern masters Pablo Picasso and Marcel Duchamp who drew inspiration from African art forms and appropriated common items for use as high art.
Born in New Jersey, Cole continues to live and work in his home state. His art is found in public and private collections around the world, including the Baltimore Museum of Art, Cleveland Museum of Art, Dallas Museum of Art, Museum of Contemporary Art–Chicago, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, and Yale University Art Gallery, among many others. He has received numerous awards and honors including the David C. Driskell Prize, Augustus Saint-Gaudens Memorial Fellowship, Joan Mitchell Foundation Award, and Wheeler Foundation Grant.
Pictured Right: Willie Cole (American, b. 1955) Downtown Goddess, 2012–13 Edition: 5/7, unique patination Bronze Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art, Auburn University; museum purchase with funds provided by Julian Haynes and the 1072 Society, 2014 2014.1.2. Courtesy of the artist and beta pictoris gallery.