Written by, Xavier Silva, Columbia High School Senior
Photography by, Maya Cruz, Columbia High School Senior
On January 9, Columbia High School (CHS) welcomed Willie Cole, renowned sculptor and artist, to speak to various classes in the Arts Department. Recognized primarily for his iron print work, Cole has had his pieces exhibited all over the country in many galleries. These include the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, as well as some international museums. He first gained recognition for his work that was influenced by African and African-American culture. In addition to his work with iron prints, he makes sculptures out of easily accessible and reused materials. These material include old women’s heels and plastic bottles, among others. He was raised in Newark, New Jersey and even used to make a living as a portrait artist on the streets of the “Brick City”.
It was the first time Cole had visited CHS, although he has lived and worked in the northern New Jersey area his entire life. “I don’t know it that well but it’s very possible that I exhibited somewhere around here in the early seventies because I would do all the community shows at that time. Art in the park or something like that,” he said.
Cole explained that although publicly his artistic identity revolves around reusing materials in sculptures, he does a lot of other work privately as well. “I do a lot of portraits still. I never exhibit that stuff because the art world discovered me as an artist who made things out of found materials”. He believes that every object has an identity and a story that can enhance the projects he works on.
His inspiration for art
was central to his presentation to students, and it’s something that he
explained he does not try to force. “The inspiration for the bottles happened 3
and a half or 4 years ago and I’m eager to get into something else now, but it
hasn’t hit me yet.” Also, once he starts on using the same kind of materials,
he keeps the projects going while keeping it fresh at the same time. He is
still doing sculptures with womens shoes, but now shifted the focus on
animation projects using those sculptures he created, each of which has a
unique identity. He is also continuing his work with prints, but now using them
in fashion and textile. “I’m always interested in learning and doing new things
and I’m easily inspired, so it just kind of happens without thought.” explained
Cole often works on large projects that require the use of assistants, and he explained that it’s a good experience to have people helping him as it makes the process much quicker. He elaborates, ”The assistants work with raw material kind of stuff, they prepare the parts. It’s good to work with a group I feel, it teaches me how to be instructive and there’s some things I can’t do everything by myself in a decent amount of time”.
His piece of advice for aspiring artists is to simply devote themselves to being an artist and being confident enough to pursue as a career if that’s what they really want to do. “So if a young students wants to be an artist, they have to decide that they are already an artist. And, if they can, and I recommend they do, they don’t do anything else. If you need 100 bucks, don’t go out and look for a job. Say, “What can I do to make $100 as an artist?” and just let that evolve until you’re making enough for the lifestyle you want.”