Press Release: Willie Cole ‘Works on Paper’ Exhibition to Open in James Gallery

Deep Impressions: Willie Cole Works on Paper, the first survey of its kind dedicated to the New Jersey artist, opens at the James Gallery of the CUNY Graduate Center on September 21 and runs through January 8. Organized by freelance New York curator Patterson Sims in collaboration with Cole, the exhibition focuses exclusively on the artist’s works on paper, including his ink drawings, prints, oil pastels, lithographs, woodcuts, photo etchings, monotypes, and collages. The artist is represented by Alexander and Bonin, New York.

The James Gallery is located at 365 Fifth Avenue (between 34th and 35th Streets). It is open Tuesdays and Wednesdays (12-8 p.m.), and Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays (12-6 p.m.). The opening reception is on October 12 (5:30-7 p.m.).

Cole, who is best known for his assemblages of salvaged American consumer products, was born in 1955 and has lived his entire life in New Jersey, which is at the center of his art. His work contrasts the harsh realities and aspirations of inner city African-American life with the affluence of the suburbs. He likewise posits his art between the polar influences of father and mother, male and female, “field” and “house” -- that is, the defiant and instinctual vs. the docile and thoughtful -- taking them as black American coordinates.

Although he remains best known as a sculptor, Cole has worked on paper from the time he began taking drawing classes at the Newark Museum when he was 10. Drawing was also a major part of his training at the esteemed Arts High School in Newark, where he made his first prints, and was at the core of his studies at Boston University’s School of Fine Arts, and at the School of Visual Arts and the Art Students League in New York City. His works on paper, even more than his sculptures, permit him to explore variations and alternative compositions, colors, and points of view, revealing a more immediate and intimate side of his persona and artistic sensibility.

Cole's artistic maturity began in the mid-1980s with his assemblages of hairdryers, high-heeled shoes, lawn jockeys, ironing boards, and, above all, steam irons. He found many of these discarded objects near his loft in the then-deserted, light-industrial section of Newark -- known distinctively as the Ironbound district -- and transformed them into objects of beauty, balance, and belief.

Fusing Pop art and minimalist concepts, Cole’s representations and abstractions made from everyday consumer objects and their images employ repetition, intricate designs, and bold color combinations to create what he calls “minimal maximalism.” The hair dryers, steam irons, ironing boards, lawn jockeys, and high-heeled shoes function as potent, multi-leveled symbols and metaphors no less in works on paper than in his sculptures. The steam iron, for many years Cole’s favored motif, has multiple manifestations in scorched and stenciled impressions on canvas and paper. Grouped and conjoined, the steam iron’s imprints evoke the spirit of both domestic and existential dramas.

The Graduate Center

The Graduate Center is the primary doctorate-granting institution of the City University of New York (CUNY). The school offers more than 30 doctoral programs, as well as a number of master's programs. The Graduate Center is also home to more than 30 interdisciplinary research centers and institutes and offers an extensive array of public lectures, exhibitions, concerts, and theatrical events. Further information on the Graduate Center and its programs can be found at

Submitted on: SEP 1, 2010

Category: Press Room