Willie Cole (1955- ) was born in Sommerville, New Jersey. He studied at the Art Students League and received a BFA from the School of the Visual Arts, both in New York City.
Cole transforms ordinary domestic objects such as bicycle parts, irons and lawn jockeys into powerful works of art, embedded with references to the African-American experience and inspired by West African religion, mythology and culture.
The steam iron is the single most important icon in Cole's visual vocabulary. Its symbolic reach extends from the domestic role of women of color to the Yoruba god of iron and war, Ogun. The imprint of the iron point up references a house; point down, a face with tribal scarification patterns or an African mask. A horizontal ironing board symbolizes a bird's-eye view of a slave ship; vertically, it takes on the form of a warrior’s shield. By scorching canvases with the iron, Cole creates patterns reminiscent of Adinkra cloth found in Ghana.
Willie Cole attended Boston University School of Fine Arts and received his Bachelor of Fine Arts from the School of Visual Arts in New York. 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; the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; and the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.