Arts & Entertainment Editor
Carol Cole: Cast A Clear Light, the newest exhibit housed in the Weatherspoon Art Museum, features an artist’s themed artwork and her corresponding collection. The two-room exhibit, which opened March 3, reveals a timeline of Cole’s artwork as she matured as an artist and collector.
She began taking art seriously by her late 20s, after enrolling in a class at the Masur Museum of Art in Louisiana. Always doubtful of her work due to her mother’s insistence that she could not draw glass, Cole decided to prove her wrong. A mixture of doubt and psychosis urged Cole to start painting “Zinnia,” one of the first works of art showcased in the exhibit.
“Zinnia,” a photorealist piece, is of a flower in a vase that used to sit in her son’s room. The large-scale painting prominently features a glass vase, with translucent water and transparent glass. The single flower in the vase has green abstract and blocky color changes in the leaves and stem. Strokes of orange, red, pink and aqua make up the petals, as the flower tucks into the top left corner of the canvas.
The perfection of this piece did not appeal to Cole, yet she “went on to recycle its techniques in more personal work,” said the artist in a narrative written by Paddy Johnson, a co-curator of the exhibit.
Cole’s work, unlike some artists, is an evolution of inspiration from her previous artwork. After “Zinnia,” Cole produced more abstract work using a dome-shaped figure that resembled a breast.
“Cole uses the female breast as her key motif, but the work isn’t merely about being a woman;” said Dr. Emily Stamey, a co-curator of the exhibit and the Weatherspoon’s overall curator of exhibitions. “For her, the breast is a symbol of both nurture and vulnerability–which we all need and experience regardless of gender.”
The artist’s work quickly changed to the medium of color pencil, creating finely-detailed backgrounds that appear scale-like, or have strong gradients. An example of this is her collection entitled “F.E.A.R.S.,” an acronym for “Finally Everything as Remembered Simultaneously,” which came after her collection of “The Bubble Blower.”
“F.E.A.R.S.” came from the artist having an epiphany, in which she realized she consistently drew the breast-shape at the bottom of every page – she believed this was out of fear. Each piece is an individual fear, such as her fear as a mother and the unquenching needs of her children or the fear of being mean, while being assertive. All the pieces use soft pastels to depict contrasting ideas that use thorns, puncture wounds and suffocating webs.
The sculpture version of the “F.E.A.R.S.” collection is also present, taking the two-dimensional drawing and bearing a three-dimensional presence using porcelain, glaze, fabric, wood and more.
As Cole matured as an artist, she also created more sculptures than pencil drawings. She uses a variety of mediums – surpassing the complexities of her earlier sculptures, by using clay, linen, silk, stain and glass.
Her work in the exhibit is interspersed with other’s that she has collected. All the work appears reminiscent of her own, by the recurring use of nature and dome-shapes. Stamey agrees with this sentiment.
“Throughout the show, visitors get a chance to really understand the evolution of Cole’s work, as well as to see how her collecting reinforces that work,” she said.
One untitled piece that is part of Cole’s collection is by Lee Lozano. The piece depicts the chest of a woman, who is Lozano herself, wearing nothing, but a necklace. However, the Star of David around her neck replaces each of Lozano’s breasts, while the necklace’s emblem is replaced with a single breast.
Lozano’s piece is creamy and textured, highlighting warm skin color and blending the two Stars of David as if they were natural parts of her anatomy. Cole said, as stated in a plaque adjacent to the artwork, that she believed Lozano was attempting to understand her Jewish and female identities as one. The reversal of identity markers does add to the oil painting, reminding viewers that identities always overlap, and can never be understood as separate.
Other pieces Cole has collected are abstract in nature, using various concoctions of mediums. As the exhibit continues, there is a connection between the inclusion of more mediums in Cole’s own work and in the artwork she collects.
In Mary Beth Edelson’s “Goddess Head, Single/Yellow,” she creates a collage, using watercolor on a silver gelatin print. A woman stands, arms outreaching for what resembles the desire to hug someone, as she is located on what might be another planet, with rock formations surrounding her. The woman’s head is replaced with a pastel striped shell.
Edelson’s small piece correlates to the entire exhibit, by the way it emotes yearning and frustration.
“…It’s a show that encourages being really honest about our humanity–which is something everyone can relate to,” Stamey said, referencing the commonality the exhibit shares.
To fully understand the complexities of Cole’s work, visit the Weatherspoon Art Museum before June 17, to see it for yourself. For the museum’s hours, visit http://weatherspoon.uncg.edu/.