Willie Cole: Portrait of the Artist as the Upcycler

A graduate of the School of Visual Arts, New York – artist, sculptor Willie Cole‘s body of work is a sign of our times, where traditions of assemblage/construction not only meets sculptural integrity but also holds up a discerning mirror to cultures of relentless consumption and wastefulness in the swirl of industrial capitalism. To quote Tatlin:”The material formation of the object is to be substituted for its aesthetic combination. The object is to be treated as a whole and thus will be of no discernible ‘style’ but simply a product of an industrial order like a car, an aeroplane and such like.” (from the LEF journal, 1923.) The ‘found object’ in sculptural construction is vital, and Cole, in choosing mass-produced industrial consumer waste such as high-heeled shoes, hairdryers, ironing boards and steam irons, crosses over to arenas of upcycling, albeit possibly drawing attention to it only, and not creating products of everyday usage as upcycling does. But, what better usage and function than that which is aesthetic. His work is not only a startling commentary on cultures of consumption and wastefulness, but is also a thematic meditation on his roots as an African American man, with race and identity finding their poignant presence in his various sculptural constructions. Take a look.



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