Willie Cole is interested in the concept of “Oneness,” which he describes as repeating one object obsessively as a building block to make any and many objects. He subverts his recurring symbols of servitude—irons and ironing boards—by the context in which he uses them. Irons appear again in his images, taking the association one step further with the concept of “heat.”
On his first visit to Tamarind in 2005, he drew on regional associations. “Where am I?” he asked. “I’m in the land of Georgia O’Keeffe. There are flowers in the air!” and inventively constructed flower images from the patterns on the bottom of steam irons. In 2012, Cole visited Tamarind for a third time to participate in the project Afro: Black Identity in the United States and Brazil.
Cole’s work has been the subject of several one-person museum exhibitions. In 2010, a survey exhibition of his work on paper (1975-2010) took place at the James Gallery of the Graduate Center of the City University of New York and later travelled to the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, the Sarah Moody Gallery of Art at the University of Alabama and the Rowan University Art Gallery in Glassboro, NJ. In 2013, Complex Conversations: Willie Cole Sculptures and Wall Works opened at Albertine Monroe-Brown Gallery at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo and traveled to the Weatherspoon Art Museum in Greensboro. His work is in numerous public collections, including the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; and the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.