Willie Cole’s Sole Sitter Arrives at the Newark Museum
The Newark Museum’s latest acquisition is a large-scale bronze sculpture of a meditative figure with head resting in hands. Look carefully and you see that the figure is composed entirely from the forms of women’s shoes. The knees and thighs are composed from a pair of clogs, the feet are Mary Janes, and several high heels, some folded over, form the head. Ordinary objects of everyday dress are revealed in new ways.
For decades, artist Willie Cole has creatively transformed used shoes and other found objects — including blow dryers, bicycle parts and ironing boards — into imaginative works of art. Sole Sitter is an enlarged version of a sculpture by Cole assembled from actual shoes. The title is a play on words: “sole” evokes both the everyday (worn shoe bottoms) as well as the exceptional, while its homophone “soul” connotes spiritual essence.
The work’s form and dark patina also reflect the influence of African sculpture, which the artist was introduced to as a child growing up in Newark and visiting the Newark Museum. When I first saw this sculpture — in a photograph the artist took shortly after the work was cast in a foundry in Georgia — I immediately saw resemblances to works of art from central Africa. While Cole doesn’t base his sculptures on a specific African tradition or aesthetic, he surrounds himself with images of African art which filter into his subconsious and re-emerge in his work. “I’m exploring the ‘African’ aesthetic in general,” Cole says, “and re-presenting it in a neo-pop art idiom.”
Sole Sitter is on view in the South Wing rotunda, just up the stairs from the museum’s entrance. You can see examples of African art, a source of inspiration for Willie Cole , in the African galleries on the second floor . Another work by the artist is currently on view in the exhibition Papyraceous, in the American art galleries, on the second floor of the Museum’s North Wing.
– Christa Clarke, Ph.D., Senior Curator, Arts of Global Africa
Entry filed under: African Art Collection.