Artist Willie Cole is known for transforming discarded materials into sculptures with a tenor of interrogation. Much of his three-dimensional work revolves around found objects like high-heels, plastic bottles, or ironing boards that he turns into pieces of cultural commentary, addressing issues of mass production, historical legacies, and identity. The items tend to guide the formation of his assemblages, he says, sharing that, “the objects that I use I see as them finding me, more so than me finding them… I see an object and suddenly I recognize what I can do with the object. So in that sense, there is an energy or spirit connection to the object. I am exploring the possibilities of these objects.”
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Cole’s solo show No Strings, which opens this April at Alexander and Bonin in New York, exemplifies this approach. The artist, who’s currently living and working in New Jersey, recovered guitars, saxophones, and pianos from Yamaha’s recycling program and through his usual alchemy, has created anthropomorphic creatures and abstracted figures from their parts: he converts hammers into tail feathers and spliced acoustic bodies into dogs and anonymous musicians. The pieces are expressive and tied to the endurance of America’s past, particularly drawing a connection between the guitar’s shape and the yokes forced on people who were enslaved.
In addition to the upcoming No Strings show, you can see a few of Cole’s sculptures in the ongoing Before Yesterday We Could Fly: An Afrofuturist Period Room at The Met, and explore more of his works on his site and Instagram.