On Friday, February 11, the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art
opened an exhibition of 31 prints, drawings, and photographs by internationally recognized and award-winning artist Willie Cole. Organized by Patterson Sims, Deep Impressions: Willie Cole Works on Paper includes images of everyday consumer objects used in repetition, intricate designs, and bold color combinations to create universal, transcendent statements that are both powerful and provocative. The exhibition, which spans 30 years of work, fuses pop art and minimalist concepts or what Cole alternately calls minimal maximalism or exponentialism.
Cole, born in 1955, is a native of New Jersey. His sculptures and works on paper have been the subject of numerous exhibitions around the world, including, most notably, a one-person exhibition at New Yorks Museum of Modern Art in 1998. The Brooks has a triptych by Cole, Man Spirit Mask, in its permanent collection of over 9,000 important works, which collectively provide an encyclopedic resource of art from antiquity to contemporary.
With transformation as its major theme, Deep Impressions is guaranteed to resonate with contemporary audiences. Many of the works included in the exhibition, such as Men of Iron, Silex Male. Ritual, and Stowage, reference African sculpture, scarification rites, and slave ships. Some, like Domestic ID II, refer to Coles familial history. Others, such as Pressed Iron Blossom No. 3, are remarkable purely for their formal beauty.
Marina Pacini, chief curator at the Brooks, notes that Cole is also creating a wallpaper-based installation specifically for the Brooks. Titled The Diviners, it employs his signature iron imagery. When I called Willie to ask him to come and speak at the Brooks, he suggested doing an installation as well, Pacini says. For the last several months, we have been working together to get the design he created printed onto fabric. As always, it takes a lot of time to get it right, but the final result is well worth it. Willie also designed three prints to hang on the wallpaper. The monochromatic images of women ironing are beautiful and haunting.