Anxious Objects:
Willie Cole's Favorite Brands

Artist's Influences: Asian Art

Found on page 2 in the Educator Packet (link at right).

Asian Art refers to art created across the entire continent of Asia, spanning all time periods, societies, and political borders.

Cole looks to Asian spiritual art, drawing primarily from Hinduism and Buddhism, for inspiration. For example:

  • Mandalas are symbolic circular figures with symmetrical divisions used in Buddhism and other religions as a representation of the universe and as an object to aid meditation. (See Pretty in Pink and Air in Remission in
    the exhibition.)
  • Masks in Asia have been used for many purposes: ritual ceremonies, healings, and theater. Masks often represent demons and gods in the retelling of stories and ritual ceremonies. Cole calls his works “Wind masks” or “Air masks” because he uses hairdryers to construct masks
    influenced by Asian predecessors. Asian masks are normally named after the decorative elements they depict, i.e. Mask of a Spirit Representing a Hornbill. (See Wind Mask East in the exhibition.)

Cole also uses Hindu and Buddhist deities as influences on his artwork. For example:

  • Ganesh is one of the most recognizable Hindu deities because he has an elephant’s head. He is the god of beginnings and of removing obstacles and therefore related to success and pleasure. Ganesh is the patron of arts and sciences and the god of intellect and wisdom.
    (See Cole’s work Pleasure.)
  • Mahakala is the Buddhist deity who governs the movement of time. Mahakala is usually represented all in black and is the god who represents the ultimate or absolute reality. He is viewed as a protective figure. Mahakala is always depicted with a crown of five skulls, often shown in a ring of fire and redemption, and can have various numbers of arms. (See Sole Protector in the exhibition.)

Cole’s work focuses on a respect for nature and the power of divinities, as much of Asian art does; at the same time, by using consumer materials, he criticizes Western attachment to mass-consumer culture.

Cole’s flowing shapes of deity figures and the rhythm and sound used in the shapes and materials of his mandalas echo the movement and dance and the ever-changing qualities of Asian art that influence on his work.

Artist's Biography

Artist's Influences

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